Eat right, for baby's sake. Building a healthy immune system starts early.
In fact, it is important that a mother eats suitably nutritious food, even before the baby is born.
'Our immune system is very much influenced by what we eat,' said Dr Ang Ai Tin, consultant paediatrician at Thomson Paediatric Clinic, Thomson Medical Centre.
'A mother's optimum diet is the beginning of the journey. She must eat right to have a healthy foetus,' said
After the birth of the child, it is also important to breastfeed the newborn for the first six months at least, to prime his intestinal tract with good bacteria.
This good bacteria will then form a barrier that protects the baby from infections or other types of harmful organisms.
Subsequent food can also be important in building immunity, said
She suggested that low allergenic food be given to weaning babies, as allergies compromise the immune system. Some low allergenic foods are apples, oats and carrots.
Dr Ang said that it is also important to include Omega-3 fatty acids in a child's diet. These can be found in fish oil.
These fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and are also available in capsule form.
'Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables must also be included to boost phytonutrients (compounds found in edible plants) and antioxidants in the diet,' she said.
Oranges, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and broccoli would be examples of such fruits and vegetables.
Children should also be fed a nutrient-rich diet, or one that has a good balance of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, minerals and vitamins.
'Carbohydrates should be low glycaemic or, in other words, they should include whole grains,' said Dr Ang.
'Protein must contain essential amino acids, from eggs, fish and red meat. Fats must contain a balance of saturated fat, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.'
Dr Ang also cautions that in order to maintain a balanced diet, parents should ensure that their children 'avoid transfat at all costs and cut down on snacks like potato chips, biscuits, and fries'.
This article was first published in Mind Your Body, The Straits Times on Jun 11, 2008.