How many colds or sick days has your child had? Did you know that it is considered normal for children to have about 10 minor infections per year? I believe we can beat those statistics and create a strong well-nourished body with some simple nutrition and lifestyle tips.
Everyday we are exposed to thousands of germs that can make us unwell. Unfortunately it’s impossible to avoid these as they are in the air we breathe and things we touch. We can, however, minimise the spread of germs by teaching our children to cover their mouths when coughing, to use tissues and to regularly wash their hands with soap and water. I personally don’t like antibacterial soaps or gels as there is no evidence they are more effective, they are full of nasty chemicals and can even destroy our valuable health promoting bacteria.
Once our body encounters a germ, our immune system is activated to defend us. This system is an intricate network of cells and organs including the skin, lymph, blood, thymus and gut all of which act to fight germs. Interestingly, an estimated 70% of our immune cells live in our gut. It therefore makes sense that a healthy diet keeps our immune system in peak fighting condition.
So here are my immune system boosting nutrition tips for kids. Minimise sugar, junk and processed foods and eat lots of wholesome nutrient dense real foods. Organic and chemical free is always best, whenever possible. This ensures a good supply of important vitamins, nutrients and phytonutrients that support our immune system, such as: vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, beta-carotene (vitamin A), zinc, selenium and flavonoids like quercetin to name a few. You can give your children a generous supply of these by including my immune super foods in their diet.
Dr Deb’s top 10 immune booster foods
- Citrus fruits, kiwi fruits & strawberries are high in vitamin C, an easy on-the-go snack and especially useful for colds and flu. Have you made a striped ice pop? Packed with vitamin C and so much better than store bought.
- Blueberries are a well known superfood with a strong antioxidant capacity to help the body cope with illness. I always keep a bag of frozen organic blueberries (cheaper than fresh) in the freezer to throw into smoothies.
- Mushrooms, especially reishi, shiitake & maitake, make our infection fighting white blood cells more aggressive and therefore more effective. They also contain vitamin D, C & selenium.
- Orange vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes & pumpkin contain beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A – another anti-infection vitamin. This powerful immune system booster strengthens the lining of our lungs, which is an important defence against germs.
- Green leafy vegetables especially broccoli and spinach are alkalising and promote health, but also contain lots of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals to fight illness. Perhaps try green smoothies (mix with fruit to sweeten) if your children don’t like their veggies. FFK has a fun green super smoothie recipe that involves using greens from your garden that might surprise you.
- Chicken soup. My grandmother was right! Studies have shown that chicken soup stops inflammatory cells accumulating, which helps to thin mucous and improve snuffly noses and wet coughs. The best is a homemade stock or bone broth, which can be used as the base of a variety of soups, stews or to cook your grains in. Check out FFK’s easy chicken stock recipe.
- Beef is protein rich to help growing bodies and also has high levels of zinc, another great immune system booster. Be sure to buy grass fed, humanely raised beef if you can. See the FFK simple stew.
- Fish, especially salmon, have high levels of healthy fats like omega 3 that are anti-inflammatory. Other omega rich foods are chia and flaxseeds which are super tasty in home made biscuits. Or if your child is willing to take it, Cod liver oil has high levels of omega 3, vitamin A & vitamin D – an immune power punch!
- Probiotics keep the gut and whole body healthy. I recommend fermented foods like sauerkraut and kefir but children often find yoghurt tastier. Be mindful and choose full fat yoghurt (less processed and more nutritious than low fat) and watch the sugar content. Consider giving your child a good quality probiotic as a supplement.
- Spices. Garlic not only keeps the vampires at bay, it’s also effective at fighting bacteria and viruses. Try roasting it to make it sweeter, but raw is more beneficial. Another spice I like is turmeric, it has has strong antioxidant effects, although it does turn food orange! Cinnamon can be incorporated quite easily – mixed in with porridge, sprinkled on smoothies or in biscuits to name but a few uses. Spices are good way to introduce new flavours and can give everyday dishes a fresh boost! Exposing your child to a variety of flavours really helps reduce fussy eating when kids are older.
Besides these nutrient dense foods, good sleep and exercise also keep bodies strong. Sleep deprivation affects hormones (e.g. cortisol), which weakens our defences. And the opposite is true of exercise which boosts our immunity. Even in cold weather there is no scientific evidence that getting cold will give you a cold, so let’s get our kids’ tummies full of immune boosting foods and out there playing, come rain or shine!
Best,MBChB(hons), Dip Paed, FRACP (PEM) www.drdeborahlevy.com