Compared to adults, children suffer from a cold, fever or a runny nose more often. They are also more prone to picking up infections fromtheir surrounding environment such as their class mates or playmates. This happens primarily because the child’s immune system is stillmaturing. As the little ones get exposed to a variety of infections, his or her immunity starts building up. So as a child goes through middlechildhood, he or she becomes more equipped to fight off an infection..
However, the ability to fight off an infection depends on how well equipped the immune system is. Now, how well equipped the immune system is to fight off or prevent an infection depends on the child’s nutritional status. A well-nourished child can mount an effective immune response against an infection and can avoid or overcomes illnesses better than an undernourished child.
Hence it is important that a child’s diet consists of a variety of foods from the different food groups. Dairy happens to be one of the most important of all thefood group in a child’s daily diet.
Dairy comprises of milk and different milk products such as cheese, paneer, khoya and fermented milk products such as buttermilk and curd.
Scientists over the years have tried to delve deeper and understand the relation between dairy consumption and the human immunesystem. Overall, it is believed that the ability of dairy to support the immune system comes from the constituent nutrients that are presentin it. These nutrients modulate different aspects of the immune system and the way it responds to an infection. For example, somenutrients work on the immune cells that protect the body from the infection while others on immune cells that fi ght back and destroy themicroorganism that cause the infection.
Dairy is well known for its excellent nutrient profi le and some of the nutrients present in milk that play a role in supporting the immunesystem functioning are as follows:
A glass of milk provides about 6-7 gms of protein. Casein and whey are the two types of protein found in milk. Milk proteins have highdigestibility and are considered to be of excellent quality as they have a high proportion of essential amino acids. The antibodies andimmune cells of the immune system are basically protein in nature and hence a steady supply of protein is required from the diet in order tobe
Milk is a source of fat soluble vitamins like vitamin A, E and K. The anti-oxidant ability of these fat soluble vitamins are important forprotection against infections and recovery from infections. Milk doesn’t naturally contain vitamin D, however, in recent years some brandsof milk are being fortifi ed with vitamin D in India.
Dairy also contains vitamin B12 which is vital for immune system functioning as it is required for the production and functioning of theWBCs. In fact, infections can increase vitamin B12 requirements of the body.
Riboflavin or vitamin B2 is another of the important vitamins found in milk. In fact, vitamin B2 was fi rst isolated from milk and characterizedas the milk pigment in 1879. Ribofl avin is very important for functioning of the immune system as it activates the phagocytic or destructiveability of neutrophils and macrophages; immune cells which engulf and destroy disease causing microorganisms. Ribofl avin alsostimulates the multiplication and productions of other immune cells such as neutrophils and monocytes.
In addition to retaining the original set of nutrients present in unfermented milk, fermented milk also contains the additional goodness ofprobiotics. Research over the years have clearly demonstrated that probiotics are some of the best foods to boost immunity and fermented milk products contain high probiotic counts. The probiotics present in milk help in forming a strong healthy gut microbiota which then iscapable of fi ghting off infections. The gut microbiota supports the immune system by stimulating the maturation and functioning of theimmune cells through the different metabolites they secrete in the intestine. Probiotics also promotes better health by promoting thegrowth of benefi cial bacteria and inhibiting growth of harmful bacteria.
Thus, it is very important that dairy be part of a child’s daily diet through the formative years when the immune system develops and matures.