10 Most Important Nutrients Needed For Strong Immune System in Kids by Dr. Sagar Bhattad

10 min read

Written by Dr. Sagar Bhattad

Dr. Sagar Bhattad

Dr Sagar Bhattad is a renowned Pediatric Immunologist and Rheumatologist in Bengaluru. He is the first DM in India in Pediatric Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology specialty.

He received hi More

Girl drinking milk

“Eat your vegetables. They are rich in vitamins and minerals” they said.

“Don’t waste your vegetables, they make you stronger” we say to our kids.

Have you ever stopped and thought about what exactly are vitamins and minerals? Why are they good for you? How do they make you stronger? Which foods are actually rich in which nutrients? Many of us are not aware of the exact role nutrients play in children’s development and what nutrients actually help improve the immune system. Most of the time, parents tell these lines to their children to make them eat.

We are all aware that fruits, vegetables, and a few other food items are very good for health and essential for a stronger body in many ways. Knowing the most important nutrients needed for strong immune system in kids and their sources can help in case of recurrent illness or a deficiency.

In This Article

Vitamins and Minerals the Basics

Let’s start with the basics!

What are Vitamins?

These are a group of organic substances (found in plants and animals) essential for the proper functioning of the human body. 13 vitamins are essential for our regular functioning. These are split into two categories:

1. Fat-Soluble:

These vitamins are stored in the tissues, muscles, and the liver. With sufficient dietary fat in the body, these vitamins get easily absorbed. Fat-soluble vitamins are:

  • Vitamin D
  • Retinol or Vitamin A
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K

2. Water-Soluble:

These vitamins are not stored in the body. The body uses whatever it wants and flushes out the excess in the form of urine. Water-soluble vitamins are:

  • Vitamin C
  • All B Vitamins

Since these cannot be “stored” for later use, a regular intake of these vitamins is essential. Failure to do so, can lead to deficiencies and related problems. Vitamin B12 is the sole exception to this. It can be stored for many years in the liver.

Why are Vitamins Essential?

Each vitamin has an important role to play in the functioning of the body. If these vitamins are not absorbed properly or if intake is insufficient, it can lead to a deficiency of the same. The deficiency can lead to improper functioning of the vitamins, resulting in health issues.

For example – Vitamin C or ascorbic acid plays an important role in tissue health and wound healing. It helps in the absorption of iron, which is important for healthy blood. It is also a powerful antioxidant and helps in fighting free radicals in the body. Also it takes care of the teeth and gums.

Now, when the body does not get enough Vitamin C, the above functions do not happen properly. As a result, some parts of the body can get affected more than others. Either way, this affects the body’s functioning and leads to health problems.

[Read : Vitamin B12 Deficiency in Children]

What are Minerals?

These are a group of inorganic substances (found in soil and water) that are essential for the functioning of the body.

1. Major Minerals:

Some of the essential minerals we commonly hear about are:

  • Calcium
  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorous

Other essential minerals not many of us hear about are chloride and Sulphur.

2. Trace Minerals:

Some of the essential trace minerals (those we don’t need in large quantities) are:

  • Iron (yes this is a trace mineral)
  • Zinc
  • Copper
  • Iodine
  • Selenium

There is more to this list of trace minerals that are essential for the proper functioning of the body.

Why Are Minerals Essential?

They help in

  • The formation of healthy teeth and bones (calcium).
  • Controlling body fluids.
  • Converting food into energy.

10 Most Important Nutrients Needed For Strong Immune System in Kids

Now, this list is exhaustive. Some nutrients are easily available through food sources, others aren’t. This is why doctors prescribe multivitamins after a certain age. So, what does your child need? What are the essential nutrients to strengthen their immature immune systems? Here is the list of important nutrients needed for strong immune system in kids:

1. Vitamin A

Vitamin A- Nutrients needed For Strong Immune System In Kids

This vitamin is also known as retinol. It helps the immune system work properly. It also helps in improving vision, protects the skin, and keeps the lining of body parts healthy.

Vitamin A can be easily derived from food sources. Your body stores excess vitamin A for later use. Excess consumption of this vitamin regularly might affect the bones in the future.

A specific Vitamin A supplement will not be required if your child eats a balanced diet containing enough fruits and vegetables. However, in many countries where children suffer from Vitamin A deficiency, children get an oral vitamin A solution depending on their age.

The average Vitamin A requirement for a child is:
Age Group Daily Requirement  (in mcg)
1-3 years 300
4-8 years 400
9-13 years 600
14-18 years 900

Sources:

  • Egg yolk
  • Milk and dairy products fortified with Vitamin A (butter, cheese, yogurt, cream, etc.)
  • Coloured fruits like mango, papaya, and apricots
  • Dark leafy vegetables like spinach
  • Coloured vegetables like carrots and red peppers
  • Sweet potato
  • Liver, fish, and beef

2. Vitamin C

vitamin C

This water-soluble vitamin is very important nutrient needed for strong immune system in kids. It provides immunity against cold and helps heal wounds faster. The antioxidant properties of this vitamin help the body fight free radicals. Vitamin C enables the body to better absorption of iron, which is very important for transporting blood throughout the body. It is very good for the skin and promotes the production of collagen.

The average Vitamin C requirement for a child is:
Age Group Daily Requirement  (in mcg)
1-3 years 15
4-8 years 25
9-13 years 45
14-18 years Boys/Girls 75/65

Severe Vitamin C deficiency can lead to scurvy. Vitamin C deficiency can also cause a delay in wound healing and lead to swollen or bleeding gums. Other symptoms of vitamin C deficiency include wrinkles and unhealthy looking skin and weak immunity. The child might seem to fall sick more often.

Sources:

  • Orange
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi
  • Cantaloupe
  • Strawberry
  • Red/green peppers
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes

[Read : 10 Ways To Encourage Your Child To Eat Fruits And Vegetables]

3.  Vitamin E

vitamin E

This fat-soluble vitamin is rich in antioxidants and helps fight free radicals in the body. Free radicals can cause cancer, vision loss, and many other serious illnesses. Vitamin C also aids in better communication within the cells.

The average Vitamin E requirement for a child is:
Age Group Daily Requirement  (in mcg)
1-3 years 6
4-8 years 7
9-13 years 11
Above 14 years 15

If your child is below the age of 3, they should not get more than 200 mg per day. Little older children should not get more than 300 mg per day. Vitamin E deficiency is a rare occurrence. In the case of digestive disorders, the vitamin may not be absorbed efficiently. Vitamin E deficiency can cause retinopathy (retinal damage that can also affect the vision), ataxia, peripheral neuropathy as well a dip in the effective immune function.

Sources

  • Green leafy vegetables like (spinach, turnip greens, broccoli, asparagus)
  • Avocado
  • Papaya
  • Mango
  • Pumpkin
  • Margarine
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Safflower, corn, or sunflower oil

4. Folic Acid

folic acid

This is the synthetic variant of folate – a B vitamin that occurs naturally. It is crucial for genetics and DNA. This is why pregnant women are prescribed folic acid as a supplement. Folic acid is essential for brain development in children. It is vital for memory and cognitive development. It can aid in better heart function to prevent issues like strokes. Also it helps the body make red blood cells. Folate deficiency in pregnant women can lead to birth defects in the newborns, such as autism. A folic acid deficiency can lead to anemia, mouth sores, and can also make your child feel tired due to a low supply of red blood cells.
Age Group Dietary Folate Equivalent (in mcg)
1-3 years 150
4-8 years 200
9-13 years 300
Above 13 years 400

A well-balanced diet can take care of your child’s daily folate requirements. Folic acid deficiency can also be genetic in certain cases due to diseases that interfere with the body’s absorption or due to certain medicines.

Sources:

  • Beetroot
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Dried beans
  • Cereals fortified with folate
  • Peanut butter
  • Orange
  • Lentils
  • Green leafy vegetables (spinach and lettuce)

5. Manganese

Manganese

Manganese is an essential trace mineral that is important for bones. It is easily available in many food sources and is absorbed by the small intestine. It is important for the liver and tissues too.

The average Manganese requirement for a child is:
Age Group Daily Requirement (in mcg)
1-3 years 1.2
4-8 years 1.5
9-13 years Boys/Girls 1.9/2.2
14-18 years Boys/ Girls 2.2/1.6

The iron content in the body is inversely related to the manganese content, i.e. if the iron content is more, the manganese content will be less and vice-versa. The reason behind this equation is unknown. Manganese deficiency is extremely rare in humans. There are no symptoms or signs that can indicate such a deficiency. Tests are rarely taken to check the manganese content in the body.

Sources:

  • Foodgrains
  • Clams
  • Oysters
  • Mussels
  • Nuts
  • Soybeans
  • Legumes
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Pepper and many other spices

6. Zinc

Zinc

This essential mineral plays a vital role in healing wounds, synthesizing proteins, DNA synthesis, cell division, and functioning of the immune system. It is easily available in many food items. Doctors might prescribe this on a short-term basis to improve the child’s immune system. It is important for your child’s growth and development. Since the body cannot store zinc, daily consumption of this mineral is important. Children require more zinc as they grow up.

The average Zinc requirement for a child is:
Age Group Daily Requirement (in mcg)
4-8 years 5
9-13 years 8
14-18 year Boys 11
14-18 year Girls 9

Zinc deficiency can affect your child’s growth, impair their immune system, making them susceptible to many infections. It can also cause a loss of appetite, severe hair loss weight loss, delay in healing of wounds as well as a delay in sexual maturation.

Sources:

  • Oysters
  • Red meat
  • Poultry
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Other seafood like crabs and lobsters
  • Dairy products
  • Whole grains
  • Cereals fortified with zinc

7. Copper

copper

This is another essential trace mineral that helps in making red blood cells, maintaining nerve cells, and the immune system. It is also essential for the production of collagen, iron absorption as well as brain function. It can improve heart health and keep osteoporosis at bay. Too much copper can affect the way your brain functions. An imbalance of this mineral is linked to Alzheimer’s disease. You should never take or give your child copper supplements unless the doctor suggests – for a good reason. Copper deficiency is very rare (Menkes disease). However, low copper content can increase blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It can cause a dip in white blood cell production, thus weakening the immune system. It can affect the bones and increase the chances of fractures too.

The average Copper requirement for a child is:
Age Group Daily Requirement (in mcg)
1-3 years 340
4-8 years 440
9-13 years 700
14-18 year 890

Sources:

  • Oysters
  • Shellfish
  • Beans
  • Potato
  • Yeast
  • Cocoa
  • Dried fruits
  • Black pepper
  • Nuts
  • Dark leafy vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Kidney and liver

8. Sulphur

sulphur

This is the third most abundantly available mineral in the human body. It is found in amino acids such as methionine and cysteine, which are used to make protein in the body. These amino acids are found in nails, hair, and skin. It helps strengthen these tissues.

Sulphur is found in thiamin and biotin as well. These are derived from animal and plant-based proteins. It helps to fix the DNA and protect cells from damage. This in turn keeps serious illnesses like cancer at bay. Sulfites, which are derived from Sulphur are used as a preservative in pickles, jams, dried fruits, etc. Sulfites develop naturally in food that is fermented, too.

There is no daily dosage recommendation for this trace mineral. However, excess of this in your child’s body can turn into gas and lead to diarrhea or inflammatory bowel diseases.

Sources:

  • Garlic
  • Broccoli
  • Onions
  • Animal sources for methionine (turkey, beef, fish, chicken, and eggs)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Dried fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Cruciferous vegetables
  • Green leafy vegetables

9. Iron

Iron - Nutrients needed For Strong Immune System In Kids

Iron is an essential mineral that helps in the movement of blood throughout the body. It helps the body store oxygen. Though this is a very important nutrient, iron deficiency is very common – among both kids and adults. It can be mild deficiency or severe deficiency that leads to anemia. If left untreated, this deficiency can interfere with your child’s growth.

The recommended dosage of iron for a child is:
Age Group Daily Requirement (in mcg)
1-3 years 7
4-8 years 10
9-13 years 8
14-18 year Boys/Girls 11/15

Children need to eat iron-rich foods for good growth and a healthy immune system. Teenage girls require more iron than teen boys. Girls tend to lose a lot of iron during menstruation, hence are required to consume more than boys. Iron deficiency can cause mild to serious issues like fatigue, pale skin, bad appetite, slow development and growth, behavioral issues, repeated infections indicating a weak immune system. It can even make your child crave substances like paint, starch, dirt, etc. The body needs a good amount of Vitamin C. This will help the body absorb iron better. In case of a severe deficiency, iron supplements will be prescribed.

Sources:

  • Cereals fortified with iron
  • Dates
  • Figs
  • Lean meats
  • Beans
  • Spinach
  • Jaggery
  • Raisins
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Tofu

[Read : Pica in Children]

10. Selenium

selenium - Nutrients needed For Strong Immune System In Kids

Selenium is a crucial mineral that can help your child’s body fight infections. It is generally absorbed from the soil. So the selenium content in different food sources depends on the soil they were grown in. Absorption of selenium can be difficult for people receiving dialysis or if infected with HIV. Some medications might interfere with the way the body absorbs selenium.

The average selenium requirement for a child is:
Age Group Daily Requirement (in mcg)
1-3 years 20
4-8 years 30
9-13 years 40
14-18 year 55

A selenium deficiency can cause fatigue, weakening of muscles, brain fog, loss of hair, and also a weakened immune system. This can make your child susceptible to many infections.

Too much selenium is not good either. It can be toxic and lead to health issues like heart attacks, heart failure, breathing difficulties, kidney failure, and tremors.

Sources:

  • Brazil nuts
  • Animal source (Fish, Ham, Beef, Pork, turkey, chicken)
  • Dairy products (cottage cheese, eggs, milk, yogurt)
  • Baked beans
  • Brown rice
  • Cashews
  • Bananas

Every child needs a well-balanced diet to ensure they get a sufficient amount of essential minerals and vitamins. This can impact their growth. Children can be very picky eaters, leading to a loss of essential nutrients at the right age. If your child is not eating a well-balanced meal, you need to check with a pediatrician. Multivitamins or supplements can be prescribed for a short period.

However, remember, it is not a healthy option to give supplements to your child. Their bodies must learn to absorb the required nutrients from the food consumed. Giving supplements will deter the body from learning to extract required nutrients from the food consumed.

Read Also: Immunity Boosting Foods For Kids

...
Dr. Sagar Bhattad, MBBS, MD Pediatrics
DM - Pediatric Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology, Aster CMI Hospital
7 years of experience

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