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7 Gut-Friendly Immune Boosting Foods for Kids Recommended by Dietitians

Published November 19, 2023

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A strong immune system is an essential component of our kid’s overall well-being. While there's not just one magic pill for immune health, the right foods can provide the essential nutrients and support needed to help kids thrive. In this blog, we'll explore seven immune boosting foods for kids and how each one can support their health and immunity long-term.

1. Citrus Fruits

Citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, and tangerines are rich in vitamin C, a well-known immune system supporter. Vitamin C enhances the production of white blood cells, which are essential for fighting infections. A diet rich in vitamin C helps reduce the risk for common colds and infections [1]. Citrus fruits also contain specific types of fiber that act as prebiotics, to help fuel the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, which can impact everything from digestion to nutrient absorption [2].

2. Yogurt

Yogurt, specifically with live and active cultures are a great source of probiotics, the friendly bacteria that maintain a balanced gut microbiome. A healthy gut is crucial for both regular poops and a thriving immune system. The probiotics in yogurt can help keep the digestive system balanced to strengthen the body's defense mechanisms [3].

Begin Health Expert Tip: Flavored yogurts often contain added sugars. Added sugars, when consumed in excess, can alter the gut microbiota. Opt for unsweetened, plain yogurt to help avoid adding unnecessary added sugars to your little one’s diet. For an extra nutrient boost, try adding a serving of Growing Up Prebiotics. It’s flavorless, textureless, and an easy way to boost your little one’s daily fiber intake with 3 grams per serving.

3. Berries

Berries like strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries are packed with an abundance of antioxidants, vitamins, and prebiotic fiber. Antioxidants help protect the body from harmful free radicals to reduce effects from inflammation and support the immune system. [4]. Berries also contain some of the highest fiber amounts in fruits, which is beneficial to maintain regular bowel movements.

Berries (per 1 cup serving)

Total Fiber Count

Strawberries

3 grams

Blueberries

4 grams

Raspberries

8 grams

Blackberries

8 grams


4. Spinach

Spinach is a leafy green vegetable rich in vitamins A and C, as well as numerous antioxidants and beta-carotene. These nutrients together can build a stronger immune system by supporting the body's ability to fight infections [5]. Studies have also found that consuming spinach promotes a specific bacteria in the gut that produces a gas called hydrogen sulfide, which has high anti-inflammatory effects on the body.

5. Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are loaded with beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is crucial for maintaining the integrity of mucosal surfaces, including the gut lining which in return can enhance immune function since 80% of our immune cells are located in the gut [6].

6. Carrots

Carrots, like sweet potatoes, contain beta-carotene to support immune function [6]. Carrots are also a source of prebiotic fiber and according to some studies, can boost the overall amount of good gut bacteria in the microbiome for digestive health. 

7. Growing Up Prebiotics

We always reccomend a food first approach when it comes to getting nutrients, but it can be difficult for kiddos to eat all the right foods - especially pickier eaters. For additional support, our Growing Up Prebiotics can be an easy way to add prebiotics. It's a tasteless and textureless daily prebiotic fiber supplement, formulated specifically for kids ages 1 year and up. Building a thriving gut microbiome is the foundation for a healthy immune system. Prebiotics can help the gut microbiome by serving as nutrition for the good gut bacteria in our little one’s microbiome. In addition, studies have found that consuming prebiotics can support softer and more frequent stooling within six weeks of daily use [8].

Summary: A well-balanced diet that includes immune-boosting foods like citrus fruits, yogurt, berries, spinach, nuts, and seeds, and even prebiotics like Growing Up Prebiotics, is essential for supporting your little one’s immune health. These foods provide the essential nutrients, vitamins, and antioxidants needed to help them stay strong and resilient against common infections. By making these foods a regular part of their diet, you're giving your kiddo the foundation for a healthier and happier life.

 

References:

[1] Maggini S, Wenzlaff S, Hornig D. Essential role of vitamin C and zinc in child immunity and health. J Int Med Res. 2010 Mar-Apr;38(2):386-414. doi: 10.1177/147323001003800203. PMID: 20515554.

[2] Sost MM, Ahles S, Verhoeven J, Verbruggen S, Stevens Y, Venema K. A Citrus Fruit Extract High in Polyphenols Beneficially Modulates the Gut Microbiota of Healthy Human Volunteers in a Validated In Vitro Model of the Colon. Nutrients. 2021 Nov 1;13(11):3915. doi: 10.3390/nu13113915. PMID: 34836169; PMCID: PMC8619629.

[3] Hadjimbei E, Botsaris G, Chrysostomou S. Beneficial Effects of Yoghurts and Probiotic Fermented Milks and Their Functional Food Potential. Foods. 2022 Sep 3;11(17):2691. doi: 10.3390/foods11172691. PMID: 36076876; PMCID: PMC9455928.

[4] Govers C, Berkel Kasikci M, van der Sluis AA, Mes JJ. Review of the health effects of berries and their phytochemicals on the digestive and immune systems. Nutr Rev. 2018 Jan 1;76(1):29-46. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nux039. PMID: 29087531.

[5] Roberts JL, Moreau R. Functional properties of spinach (Spinacia oleracea L.) phytochemicals and bioactives. Food Funct. 2016 Aug 10;7(8):3337-53. doi: 10.1039/c6fo00051g. Epub 2016 Jun 29. PMID: 27353735.

[6] Huang Z, Liu Y, Qi G, Brand D, Zheng SG. Role of Vitamin A in the Immune System. J Clin Med. 2018 Sep 6;7(9):258. doi: 10.3390/jcm7090258. PMID: 30200565; PMCID: PMC6162863.

[7] Sherry CL, Kim SS, Dilger RN, Bauer LL, Moon ML, Tapping RI, Fahey GC Jr, Tappenden KA, Freund GG. Sickness behavior induced by endotoxin can be mitigated by the dietary soluble fiber, pectin, through up-regulation of IL-4 and Th2 polarization. Brain Behav Immun. 2010 May;24(4):631-40. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2010.01.015. Epub 2010 Feb 6. PMID: 20138982; PMCID: PMC2856791.

[8] Closa-Monasterolo, R., Ferré, N., Castillejo-DeVillasante, G., Luque, V., Gispert-Llauradó, M., Zaragoza-Jordana, M., Theis, S., & Escribano, J. (2016). The use of inulin-type fructans improves stool consistency in constipated children. A randomised clinical trial: pilot study. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 68(5), 587–594. https://doi.org/10.1080/09637486.2016.1263605

May Zhu, RDN

May Zhu, RDN

May is the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and nutrition expert at Begin Health.