Boosting my child’s immune system is at the forefront of my mind right now, as Mackenzie has just started crèche, for the first time. As much as I am excited about this new step, in her development and sense of independence, I am bracing myself for the inevitable sickness that comes with attending the germ harbouring sites that are playgroups, crèches and schools (even the cleanest ones). “Touch wood” Mackenzie has never had a cold or flu in her first 13 months and I feel very lucky. Luck might have something to do with it… but realistically I know I have decreased her risk of getting sick with a range of steps I take in my own life.
My 13 steps to boosting your child’s immune system:
What you eat and the amount of phytonutrients (definition: any of various bioactive chemical compounds found in plants, as antioxidants, considered to be beneficial to human health) in your food has a clear impact on your immunity. The vitamins, minerals and other nutrients found in the foods you eat have a dramatic effect on your body’s ability to fight disease and infection. Some studies even suggest that increased intake of nutrient rich food during childhood provides a lifetime of disease protection.
1. Vitamin A
Found in foods like: carrots, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, spinach, and kale Vitamin A helps the body fight infection.
2. Vitamin C and carotenoids
We all know that citrus are a great source of vitamin C but other great sources include peppers, baked potatoes, carrots, green beans and broccoli. Berries like strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are high in vitamin C and flavonoids. Flavonoids are antioxidants that protect our cells keeping us healthy and “young”.
3. Vitamin D
Ironically Vitamin D is often low in Australians as we are paranoid about sun exposure. Vitamin D is synthesised in our bodies from the sun and can be found in mushrooms, dairy, eggs, soy, oats, and fortified cereals. Maintaining good levels in really important to the efficient operation of our immune systems.
4. Vitamin E
We know that vitamin E is great for our skin and helps with the repair of damaged skin cells but the good news is vitamin E also helps protect all the other cells in our bodies and acts as a powerful defence against bacteria and viruses. Find this powerhouse vitamin in whole grains like oats in nuts and seeds as well as in your leafy greens.
White blood cells are integral to our body’s ability to fight infection. Omega-3 fatty acids help to keep these cells powered. Great plant based sources of these healthy fats include: flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts.
6. Live cultures
Gut flora really is the new frontier in research into health the human body. Without good gut flora it is impossible to maintain a healthy body. Populate your gut with live cultures such as lactobacillus from yogurt or natural foods and drinks containing probiotics like kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut and tempeh. Probiotic supplement containing lactobacillus and bifido bacteria strains can be a convenient way of getting your kids’ gut healthy.
Good levels of Zinc is important in keeping the infection fighting white blood cells high. Zinc-rich foods include: nuts, whole grains, and beans.
Other important weapons against sickness:
8. Managing stress
Sounds not that relevant (especially for children) but managing stress can be just an important as eating well. When we are stressed or anxious our body is flooded with the stress hormone cortisol, which pretty much has the exact opposite effect on the body as eating healthy antioxidant rich foods. Your stress and anxiety rubs off on your kids. When possible try to keep meal times as a peaceful, relaxed time to unwind and reconnect with your kids. Keeping organised helps to minimise domestic chaos and most importantly keep your “adult” discussions/arguments to yourselves and well away from the kids.
Speaking from my own personal experience I know just how important good quality sleep in for maintaining optimal health. A few nights in a row of poor sleep and I know I leave myself wide open to picking up viruses. Children at day-care are really susceptible to sleep deprivation as the busyness outside of the home makes it harder to nap. Where possible, work hard to maintain, early bedtime routines with all children.
A newborn may need up to 18 hours of bed time a day, toddlers require 12 to 13 hours, and pre-schoolers need about 10 hours.
Breast milk is really one of nature’s true wonders. The more research that is conducted, the more amazed we are by its miraculous properties, for both mother and child. Breast-feeding protects your child (long after you have stopped) from a broad range of diseases like: ear infections, allergies, diarrhea, pneumonia, meningitis, urinary-tract infections, and sudden infant death syndrome. It is not always possible but the World Health Organisation still recommends mothers breast-feed their babies for the first 2 years of life.
11. Exercise and fresh air
Moving your body and connecting with nature is also integral is disease prevention.
12. Personal hygiene
Basic practises such as regular hand washing sound simple enough should but should not be understated.
Never smoke around your children or allow your children to breath second hand smoke from others.