Kids Need Nutrition for Immunity and Daily Wellness

August 23, 2021 | Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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 Kids Need Nutrition for Immunity and Daily Wellness
The past year of shut down and pandemic have been stressful and a challenge for all ages, including our kids. We expect kids to be healthy as they don’t have years of wear-and-tear as adults do. However, dietary challenges and shortfalls affect kids of all ages. It is vital to recognize and support children’s nutritional needs for health and immune vitality.

Malnutrition in America

During shelter-in-place orders last year it was found that adults commonly gained more weight due to less activity and greater intake of comfort food and/or simple sugar. These concerns also affected children with limited activity and consumption of comfort foods and junk food.

Too often, children choose calorie-rich processed foods which fill them up but fail to truly support nutritional adequacy. Foods fortified with synthetic vitamins filled with added sugars, food colorings, and manufactured food substances do not provide quality nourishment for health. Some children may have had limited access to foods without support of school lunch programs creating another scenario of inadequate intake of nutrient-dense foods. Lack of nutrient-dense foods is of concern.

I recently wrote about a remarkable study showing the effect of a processed diet vs. whole foods on generational health. Generations of Americans have subsisted on the “Standard American Diet” that consists of processed foods with high calorie, low nutrient foods. This diet sets forth generations of kids and adults with inflammation and aging.

The CDC now recommends that children 10 years of age or younger be checked for heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. These conditions are normally seen in older adults and are associated with inflammation.

Kids are following the same path, way too early in life. Elementary age children are now prescribed powerful medications like Metformin as prevention and treatment for elevated blood sugar and obesity. These medications can readily contribute to nutrient deficits with drug-nutrient depletions that interfere with nutrient status, health, and immune vitality.

Does it strike you that the same “adult” health concerns that kids are facing in their tweens and teens are also risk factors for COVID-19 and numerous other disorders? We must help our children now more than ever embark on a healthy lifestyle and diet. America is malnourished – more often in terms of calorie rich, nutrient poor.

Malnutrition creates substantial stress on health in growing bodies and affects immune tolerance. We must teach our children about healthy food choices and help them restore their health. Our country is 35th on the list of healthiest countries. You and your children can and must choose to make good choices to raise our country’s health status!

Some Key Players

A nutrient-rich whole foods diet with physical activity is the foundation to health and immune vitality for growing bodies and minds. Help your children choose a wide variety of fresh foods consisting of animal proteins, beans, legumes, whole grains, seeds and nuts, fruits, and vegetables.

Numerous factors such as taste and texture, managing food sensitivities, and school lunch offerings affect food choices. Help your child to get at least 75% of their diet in whole foods rather than the Standard American Diet. Even with the best diet and good intentions, children (infants to 18 years) may lack key nutrients like iron, zinc, vitamin D, vitamin A, and other nutrients.


Iron is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world and affects about 2 billion people worldwide, especially children. Lack of iron may cause pale skin, frequent colds, cold hands and feet, inability to stay warm, fatigue, listlessness, irritability, disrupted sleep, muscle cramps, poor hair growth, and nails with ridges or depressed areas. It may even cause your child to crave ice or eat non-food items like dirt, sand, clay, starch, and paint.

Sufficient iron is essential for growth and development and is absolutely critical for immune function. Iron affects B-cell and T-cell function and is required for other immune cells like macrophages to fight against germs.

Animal proteins like red meat, liver, and dark meat poultry contain highly absorbable iron. Fish, eggs, dairy, and white meat poultry also contain iron but in slightly smaller amounts. Children or teens on a plant-based diet are more readily lacking iron as fiber and phytic acid in plants compete against iron absorption.

The RDA for children 7 months to 18 years is between 7-15 mg per day. Children with diarrhea, constipation, antibiotic use, gluten intolerance, high athletic activity, picky eaters, and/or girls with heavy menstrual cycles may need more iron.

More in-depth information may be found in the articles Low Iron Linked with Muscle Health, Sleep, Mood, and Mitochondria. and Minerals Needed for Quality Sleep.


Zinc is another critical nutrient for children. Suboptimal dietary zinc intake has been an increasingly common concern in the United States. It is an essential key mineral necessary for healthy growth and development in infants, children, and teens. Zinc affects many tissues and organs in the body as it is essential for over 300 different enzyme reactions that affect normal physiology.

Zinc provides critical support for immune system function in managing intruders and challenges of all sorts. Zinc helps normal production of various white blood cell types, cell-mediated immune function, and immune competence. Inside cells, zinc works to impair replication of germs. It also enhances apoptosis/cell death of rogue and damaged cells and vastly improves free radical protection when combined with other nutrients like quercetin. Zinc is essential for maintaining a healthy gut mucosal lining and barrier which is integral for immune function.

Skin health and integrity is one of the first tissues affected by lack of zinc and other nutrients. Adolescent acne and skin rash around the mouth, anal tissues/diaper rash may possibly relate to insufficient zinc. Increased body odor, white spots on the nails, delayed growth, and immune challenges may reflect a need for higher zinc intake.

The RDA for children ages 0-6 months to 3 years need at least 2-3 mg/day. Children 4-8 years need 5 mg, 9-13 years need 9 mg, and 14-18 years need 9-11 mg of zinc per day.

Oysters provide the greatest amount of dietary zinc. Red meat, poultry, and fish provide good sources of zinc. Much smaller amounts of zinc are found in seeds, nuts, legumes, dairy, and vegetables.

If your child predominantly consumes a plant-based diet or doesn’t like to eat meat, there is a much greater chance for inadequate zinc intake. Processed foods will not supply adequate zinc. Children who are active and perspire a lot or are going through growth spurts need more zinc. Zinc is best combined with copper in a balance of 8:1 or 10:1 ratio (Zn:Cu) to avoid other nutritional imbalances.

More in-depth information may be found with the articles Zinc Essential for Immunity, Sense of Smell and More and Zinc: Do You Need More?

Vitamin A

Vitamin A provides crucial antioxidant support and inflammatory modulation for immune and respiratory health. Inadequate levels of vitamin A in the immune system is like trying to defend against an intruder with your hands tied behind your back.

Animal foods provide pre-formed vitamin A, or retinol. This is the active form of vitamin A. Plant-based foods provide carotenes and must be converted into vitamin A. Some individuals have gene SNPs that interfere with the conversion of carotenes to vitamin A or have sluggish thyroid gland function. This must be watched out for especially in children who consume a plant-based diet. Adequate zinc is essential for vitamin A function and bioavailability. Even marginally low intake of zinc impacts vitamin A function.

Bioactive vitamin A is found in animal foods like liver, cod liver, eggs, dairy products, and fish. If your child is a picky eater, has eliminated dairy and eggs due to food allergies or has focused on a plant-based diet, dietary intake will be likely be lacking. Carotene rich foods, i.e. green leafy and red, orange, yellow, and purple colored fruits and vegetables are great, but higher amounts are needed due to lower conversion rates.

Think about the children in your life. How many of them actually eat 4-7 servings every day of richly colored fruits and vegetables or regularly consume eggs, fish, and organic dairy or even liver? What is their immune health like? If you don’t consume it, you must supplement to compensate for the lack.

You can learn more about vitamin A in the article Vitamin A – An Essential Nutrient for Immune, Respiratory, and Gut Health.

Vitamin D

Children need vitamin D and are a high-risk group for inadequate vitamin D levels. Staying indoors, use of sunscreen or insufficient exposure to sunshine, and/or lack of vitamin D fortified foods impacts vitamin D levels. Vitamin D provides critical support for thousands of genes, is a hormone and vitamin, and directly impacts every cell of your body. Vitamin D is required to activate glutathione, your main antioxidant system. Human life needs vitamin D to survive and thrive.

Check out these resources for more in-depth information:

Vitamin D and Your Immune System – Are You Getting Enough?

Glutathione and Vitamin D: A Powerful Essential Connection

Vitamin D and Magnesium: Essential Partnership for Health

Nutritional Support for Kids

Super Mini Multi is our children’s multiple vitamin with highly absorbable nutrients for daily wellness. Super Mini Multi contains iron, zinc, and vitamin A and is a great basic place to start for children ages 2-12. Additional support for the nutrients discussed includes Vitamin D 1000 IU and Daily Protector Eye & Immune. The capsules may be pulled apart and mixed with food if needed.

Other easy to use support to help growing children and teens with today’s challenges include DHA Kids, Coral Calcium, Chlorella, Grape Seed Extract, Immune Plus, Daily Protein, and RelaxaMag. Also check out the Health Topics section on our website for more in-depth information on children, high school and college age health, immune health, and so much more.

We protect kids with car seats, bike helmets, elbow and knee pads, and teach them about safety. We cannot neglect to give them the very nutrients essential for life, health, and vitality.

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