You might start to think about supporting your child’s immune system at the first sign of sniffles, runny noses and persistent coughs but it’s really something you need to start thinking about much sooner than that. A child’s immune system is their main defence against seasonal bugs and illness, and there’s a lot you can start to do now to help get them fighting fit, ready for the winter months ahead. The age old adage, ‘prevention is better than cure’ is so true when it comes to immune health, so I’ve put together my own personal top tips for supporting a healthy immune system in your kids, now and for good!
Think Zinc – The mineral zinc is absolutely essential for many different aspects of your child’s health including preventing a weakened immune system. Interestingly, zinc is also essential for maintaining a healthy appetite and sense of taste and smell; ever noticed how often appetite, taste and smell are affected during times of illness? This is often because zinc is busy elsewhere – fighting bugs! The richest food source of zinc is oysters, but since these are not usually well-loved among kids (!), consider including some more of these child-friendly zinc-rich foods into their diet – lamb & pork chops, tuna, haddock, spinach, cucumber, lentils and pecan nuts.
Increase Beta-Carotene – Make sure your child is regularly getting enough vitamin A, essential for strengthening the immune system. Whilst vitamin A is an essential nutrient for your child’s health, it can be harmful in large quantities so it’s best to increase intake of foods rich in beta-carotene, the safer plant form of vitamin A. It’s easy to spot foods that are rich in beta-carotene because of their distinctive orange flesh; think carrots, cantaloupe melon, winter squash and sweet potatoes.
Daily Vitamin C – Increase your child’s intake of the classic immune-boosting super nutrient, vitamin C by upping intake of plenty of brightly-coloured fresh fruits and vegetables, in particular citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwi fruit, peppers, broccoli, kale, papaya, pineapple and cantaloupe melon too! Humans are one of only a few species that cannot store vitamin C so that makes it even more important that your child is getting plenty of this immune-boosting super nutrient every single day.
Reduce Sugar – Sugar tends to weaken the immune system so is really bad news when there are lots of seasonal bugs hanging around. By reducing your child’s intake of sugary drinks and snacks you can help to support a strong immune system that is well equipped to fight off any unwanted visitors. If your child is acutely suffering from a seasonal bug or illness, I would recommend temporarily avoiding sugar altogether to help your child’s immune system to fight it more effectively.
Time to Relax – Whilst stress is something we more commonly associate with adulthood, it may come as a surprise to learn that kids can suffer from the effects of stress too. These may not be big ‘grown up’ stresses such as serious financial or job worries but nevertheless, little stresses among kids such as not getting enough sleep, feeling unhappy at school or just not getting enough wind down and relaxation time can still have a negative effect. I often refer to stress as one of the biggest ‘anti-nutrients’ there is and unfortunately it can also weaken the immune system too. For a healthy immune system, a few simple steps such as making sure your child is regularly getting plenty of sleep, feeling happy and content and also has some time each day to wind down and relax can make a big difference to their ability to fight off any infections.
Exercise keeps kids healthy! Exercise is so good for so many different aspects of kids’ health, so it probably won’t surprise you to learn that regular exercise can also help to strengthen the immune system too. Exercise helps to improve circulation and blood flow, which helps with the delivery of essential immune-supporting nutrients throughout the body. Exercise often involves getting out in the fresh air, a good dose of which gives them an extra boost too!
Vitamin D Deficiency? – Many studies have now shown high levels of widespread vitamin D deficiency, one of the most important nutrients for optimal immune balance. If your child is consistently ill and unable to quickly fight off everyday bugs, you might want to consider asking your GP if they’d recommend checking their levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency can be easily corrected through supplementation, but you need to know for definite that levels are low before you begin a course of supplementation. Vitamin D is present in some foods such as fortified cereals, egg yolks and fish such as tuna, salmon and sardines but what many people don’t realise is that the main source of vitamin D is actually sunshine! Vitamin D is made when bare skin is exposed to sunshine; hence why deficiency can be a problem in winter months and in colder climates such as ours.