It is officially the season of colds and flu! Most parents with children young and old are having to deal with sniffles, runny noses, or worst still, days off nursery or school due to flu or other immune related illness. So what can you do to help your children through the winter months, helping to build their immune systems and making them less venerable to winter bugs now and for the future?
Here are my 5 simple ways to give a winter boost to your children’s immune system:
1. Eat a Rainbow
Antioxidants are compounds found in certain plant-based foods which protect your cells from the effects of free radicals and can help reduce an overabundance of inflammation in the body. Inflammation contributes to poor immune function; so by getting your kids to consume foods high in these substances, you are helping to keep their immune system healthy. The best way to do this is to encourage them to eat a rainbow of fruit & vegetables, as the different colours provide different forms of protective substances. But the ones which are particularly good for kids include vitamin C and Beta Carotene:
Foods high in Vitamin C include all berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries), pineapple, citrus fruits such as oranges, kiwi fruit, cauliflower, kale, broccoli, beetroot, parsley, spinach, peppers and tomatoes.
Beta Carotene is the red-orange pigment found in plants and fruits and foods particularly high are sweet potatoes, squashes and carrots. Our bodies covert Beta Carotene into Vitamin A, which is essential for the immune system.
If your children struggle to eat vegetables, then making soups, stews, or bolognaises are a great way to include an abundance of vegetables. And remember that fruits can always be warmed or stewed and added to porridge or yoghurt for a great immune boosting meal.
2. Replace the Sunshine
Vitamin D is vital for modulating our body’s immune system’s response and deficiency is linked to poor immunity and seasonal low mood. It helps enhance our immune response against various infections which are more common during winter such as colds and flu. Our main source of vitamin D comes from the sun, with only 10% obtained from foods such as oily fish and eggs. So in the winter months it could be advisable to consider supplementation. In 2016 Public Health England advised that children over the age of one should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10mcg of vitamin D, particularly during autumn and winter.
If you are considering supplementation make sure to choose one with the active form of the vitamin called D3
3. Immune Boosting Foods
There are certain foods which are renowned for their immune boosting properties, so including these weekly in your children’s diet could be beneficial. These include:
Raw honey – full of beneficial minerals, enzymes and amino acids, raw honey is a brilliant child friendly immune food. But make sure it is cold filtered and raw. Make an immune boosting warm drink with honey, fresh lemon and grated ginger.
Garlic – brilliant for boosting immunity, although not always so child friendly. Add to cooking at the end as it’s best in as raw a state as possible. Or make your own hummus or pesto
Herbs such as rosemary, black pepper, horseradish, cayenne pepper, turmeric and cumin are all nourishing for the immune system, so include them in your cooking.
4. Look After Your Gut
80% of our immune system is contained within our gut, so looking after your gut means improving your immunity. Some experts suggest that a child’s immune system is not fully development until around 12-14 years of age, so looking after your children’s digestive system is one of the best ways to protect them.
Consuming probiotic foods such as yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut and miso is a great start, as these foods help to balance the bacteria in our guts, helping our immune system to work correctly.
Limiting processed sugar is also important. Too much sugar causes inflammation in the gut, which ultimately depresses the immune system and makes children more prone to catching colds and flu.
At this time of year, encouraging your children to consume mostly warm foods is beneficial for their digestion and immunity, helping to stave off colds and flu. Bone broths have been used as a traditional remedy for centuries as a nourishing food full of easily digestible amino acids, fats, vitamins and minerals and are very supportive of the gut lining. Part of the gut lining is made up of mucosa, which secrets certain substances acting as the first line of defence against potential pathogens. So it’s easy to see how a healthy gut lining acts as an immune barrier, contributing to the normal functioning of the immune system. Making bone broths are easy but be sure to use organic bones or chicken carcasses. Consume as a warming drink or use as stock in soups and stews.
5. Take it Easy
Busy schedules, stress and lack of sleep easily deplete the immune system and this is true for children as well. Our lives seem to be so busy these days, especially if you have children who enjoy activities, play-dates and have a full schedule of birthday parties to attend. So whilst all this is fun, make sure you build some time into your children’s schedule for relaxing and unwinding and their immune systems will thank you for it:
Get outside – make sure they get plenty of fresh air, even in winter months and let them play in the earth. Being overly hygienic can lead to an imbalanced immune system response as children develop, leading to immune related conditions such as asthma, hayfever and other allergies. Fresh air and encouraging them to get their hands in the earth, provides a natural and appropriate learning ground for their immune systems, helping to teach it how to respond.
Get enough Sleep – making sure your children are sleeping well is the best way for their bodies to rest and repair, which ultimately helps build their immunity. Make sure you have a calm and gentle bedtime routine, with electronic devises switched off at least an hour before bed and nice relaxing activities planned such as reading or meditation. Try giving children a Magnesium salt bath twice a week, as magnesium aids muscles in relaxing and helps sleep. You can also try using a relaxing essential oil such as Lavender in a cold mist diffuser placed near a cot or bed at night. If children struggle with breathing and coughing at night due to colds, then you can also add some eucalyptus oil.
If you would like more information on how to look after your children this winter or you are concerned about your child’s immunity contact me for more information or to book a nutritional therapy appointment.