Your child’s immune system is probably at the forefront of your mind right now. Whilst we keep hearing that children are more likely to be coronavirus spreaders than to experience symptoms we still want to ensure that their immune systems are top notch to ensure they do not get poorly.
What follows is a nutritional tour of the optimum nutrition strategy for your child’s immunity.
Shown to reduce the incidence of flu in schoolchildren in one study, sufficient levels of Vitamin D reduce the risk of infectious disease by strengthening the innate immune system. Vitamin D turns on key peptides that trigger a strong anti-microbial response to fight off invaders before they can cause a full-blown infection. Supplementation of Vitamin D may be necessary at this time. Most Vitamin D is obtained from being in the sunshine. That’s hard to come by at the moment for obvious reasons. Some food sources include egg yolks, oily fish and dairy produce but the amount obtained from food is relatively small. Whilst fortified foods such as cereals provide some Vitamin D it may be best to use a spray at this time. I have been recommending those by Better You. They’re easy to administer because it is simply a spray of minty freshness each day, rather like using a breath fresher so nothing to swallow and certainly nothing to stress about!
This vitamin is important in terms of maintaining the membranes that offer protection from invading viruses. It has also been shown to help the development of lymphatic tissues, another important part of the immune system.
The best food sources of Vitamin A are liver, butter, cream, egg yolks. However, some Vitamin A can be created through the conversion of beta-carotene in brightly coloured fruit and vegetables (i.e. carotenoids) to retinoids. Try to include sufficient carrots, sweet potato, dark green leafy veg in your child’s diet as well as sufficient fat as Vitamin A is a fat-soluble nutrient so optimising its absorption means eating fat as well as food sources of Vitamin A.
Vitamin C has been shown to reduce the duration of respiratory tract infections in children. Vitamin C rich foods should be a particular focus at this time. Try to include peppers, spinach, broccoli, citrus fruit, berries, pineapple in your child’s diet.
Zinc plays a key role in the immune system by keeping barrier membranes that stop infection from entering the body nice and strong. Zinc-rich foods include seeds such as pumpkin, cacao or cocoa (the nutritious part of chocolate ;-)), shellfish, poultry and red meat.
Beta Glucans increase secretory IgA which helps to keep viruses from replicating, and reduces occurrence, symptoms and duration of upper respiratory tract infections.
Encourage your child to enjoy warming bowls of wholegrain porridge oats in the morning, topped with Zinc-rich nuts and seeds.
PROBIOTICS AND PREBIOTICS
Our digestive system is where 70 percent of the immune system resides, the majority of which is in the form of good bacteria. Not only do our microbes form protective barriers, they also programme our immune systems. Animals bred with no microbiome have less well developed immune responses. Older people, and those with diseases that are characterised by inflammation, such as allergies, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes, tend to have less varied gut microbiomes.
Add fermented foods like yogurt, miso, soy sauce and sauerkraut to your child’s diet. Also encourage them to eat a higher fibre diet to provide prebiotic (food) for your good bacteria to thrive. Easy ways to include more fibre would be to leave the skin on vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and sweet potato, eat a variety of fruit and non-starchy vegetables, include pulses and also wholegrains in your child’s diet.
Technically not a nutrient but as important as one when it comes to immunity. Moderate exercise is extremely important at this time. It mobilises white blood cells, by increasing blood flow, so they can do their surveillance jobs and seek and destroy viruses.
I wish every family well during this time. It is strange and unsettling, especially when incomes have been cut or reduced for so many. If you can try and implement at least some of these steps and tips you are doing a great job. Stay well.