As the new school year kicks off, it’s no surprise that along with fresh notebooks and backpacks, we often see an uptick in sniffles, coughs, and colds among our little ones. It’s a common phenomenon, and parents are no strangers to this back-to-school trend. But the pressing question is, what can we do about it? In this blog, we delve into a powerful ally in the fight against these seasonal setbacks: nutrition. Get ready for answers to key questions that will empower parents to make informed choices about their child’s diet, ultimately keeping them healthier and happier throughout the school year.
What role does nutrition play in a child’s immune system?
The power of nutrition cannot be overstated as it plays a pivotal role in shaping their ability to fend off infections and illnesses. The foods children consume provide the essential building blocks for a robust immune response.
What are the key nutrients for immunity?
Vitamins and minerals are particularly important for immune function. Vitamin C and iron are famous for their role in supporting the production and function of immune cells, ensuring that the right soldiers are ready for battle, while vitamin D and Zinc help to orchestrate responses to invaders. Vitamin A is like the fort builder, it not only stimulates the production and activity of white blood cells but also strengthens mucous membranes. Mucous membranes are the moist and thin layers of tissue that line our mouth, nose, lungs, throat and digestive tract, and protect these sensitive areas from damage by trapping and removing foreign particles. The trace mineral Selenium is important for protection against viruses.
Antioxidants, such as Vitamin E help protect immune cells from damage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals. Antibodies are essential in recognizing and neutralizing harmful pathogens like bacteria and viruses.
Amino acids, found in proteins are the building blocks of antibodies, ensuring that the immune system can mount an effective defence. A big part of our body’s defence system is in our gut. Eating the right foods helps keep the gut healthy, and that’s important for fighting off sickness. Foods with fiber, probiotics (good bacteria), and prebiotics (food for good bacteria) help make the gut strong and ready to protect us from germs.
What foods should be included in a child’s diet to support immunity?
To prevent those sniffles, coughs, and colds, it’s imperative to curate a diet rich in immune-boosting foods. First on the list are vibrant fruits and vegetables teeming with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, like vitamin C-packed citrus fruits, leafy greens, and vibrant berries.
Kids love interactive snacks. So, why not make vitamin A and C-rich fruits and veggies exciting with colourful fruit kabobs? Let your little ones assemble their own combinations of sliced mango, pineapple and bell pepper chunks onto skewers. For Zinc and Selenium, create a custom trail mix with brasil, cashew and pecan nuts, sunflower seeds, and chickpeas. Add a dash of their favourite dried fruits for a touch of sweetness. It’s a portable and tasty way to introduce these immune-boosting foods into their snack repertoire.
Lean proteins, such as poultry, fish, and beans, supply the essential amino acids needed for antibody production and immune cell development. Transform mealtime into an adventure with homemade veggie burgers. Combine black beans or lentils with finely chopped veggies like spinach and carrots, and let your kids shape their own protein and iron rich patties.
Don’t forget about whole grains, the heroes of gut health, which nourish the good bacteria in the gut and support the gut’s role in immune function. Use whole wheat pasta, brown rice or quinoa instead of white rice, whole wheat bread instead of white bread, and swap out some or all of the white flour with whole wheat flour when making pancakes or waffles. Incorporate yoghurt and other probiotic-rich foods to maintain a flourishing gut microbiome.
Finally, hydration is key; it supports processes like lymphatic circulation and the health of mucous membranes. Hydration also helps our kidneys to flush out troublemakers. Dehydration reduces our blood volume, while blood volume is key to move immune cells swiftly to the battle scene. Invest in some cool, colourful water bottles with fun designs or your child’s favourite characters. Throw in some slices of lemon, cucumber, or berries into their water for a subtle flavor boost. Just like snack time, designate “water breaks” during the day. It can be before and after playtime, or a quick sip before meals. Consistency makes it a habit.
What foods should parents limit or avoid?
While curating your little one’s diet, it’s essential to be mindful of the foods that are best consumed in moderation. Ultra-processed foods, those laden with added sugars, salt and those containing unhealthy fats (such as the saturated fats) should be approached with caution. Now, this isn’t to say that your child should never savor a slice of cake or indulge in a scoop of ice cream. While these treats can certainly have their place, they shouldn’t become a daily indulgence if we’re striving to nurture our children’s immunity.
Eating junk and ultra-processed food can make their body’s inflammation go up, make their guts more leaky and mess up the balance of good and bad bacteria in their tummies. These things harm their immune system and make it weaker.
When do supplements make sense for kids?
Supplementing your kids’ diet may be necessary under certain circumstances. For example, if your kid has been diagnosed with a nutrient deficiency, or if your child follows a restrictive diet due to allergies, food intolerances, or strong preferences, they may not be getting all the essential nutrients from their food. Many children go through phases of picky eating, which can lead to imbalanced diets. If your child consistently avoids entire food groups or essential nutrients, supplements may be considered to ensure they get the necessary vitamins and minerals. Also, in case of growth and development delays, chronic health conditions, or when your child is heavily involved in sports, nutrient supplementation might be valuable. It’s important to note that before giving any supplements to your children, you should consult with a healthcare provider or a pediatrician.
They’re the experts who can assess your child’s specific needs, recommend the right supplements, and ensure everything blends seamlessly without any unexpected interactions.
Take a holistic approach
In the quest for our kid’s immunity and health, it’s crucial to adopt a holistic approach that encompasses not just what they eat, but how they rest, move, and feel. Nutrition is the foundation, yet, it’s equally essential to prioritize quality sleep, engaging in regular play and exercise, and nurturing their emotional health. Adequate sleep is when their bodies grow and recharge, while active play boosts circulation and supports a robust immune system. Emotional well-being is a vital piece of the puzzle, as stress and worry aren’t great germ fighters, and instead threat their immunity.
When we blend these elements harmoniously in a child’s life, we create a symphony of well-being that strengthens their defenses and sets them up for success in both health and academics.
Kids are excellent copycats. So, one of the best ways to encourage them to build strong immunity through a healthy life style, is by showing them how it’s done. Make it a family affair!