As we prepare for our children to return to the classroom in the coming weeks, it is understandable that many of us may be thinking about how to best support our kids’ immune systems.
Returning to school at this time we are concerned not only about the transmission of the coronavirus but of the other viruses that cause common colds and flu during the winter season.
While there is no guaranteed way to prevent catching a cold or flu this winter, there are a few things we can do to reduce the chances of getting sick or else to reduce the time and severity of an illness if you do catch a virus.
Good health and a strong immune system starts with a healthy diet and lifestyle.
· Avoid simple sugars and processed carbohydrates which impair the ability of our immune cells to destroy viruses.
Need a bit of sweetness? Honey has antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that support healthy immune function to help the body fight infection and prevent disease. A teaspoon of honey also reduces coughing and provides effective relief from sore throats in an upper respiratory tract infection.
· Eat plenty of colourful fruit and vegetables which provide antioxidants to help clear up the mess left behind when our immune system fights infection.
It is these free radicals that make us feel so awful. Include vegetables in soups, smoothies, stews, pureed in sauces etc
· Include antiviral foods: garlic, ginger, thyme, oregano, coconut oil, medicinal mushrooms (shiitake, maitake, reiishi etc), culinary spices (cumin, coriander, turmeric etc).
Hint: grind dried shiitake mushrooms into a powder and add a teaspoon to whatever you are cooking.
· Get fresh air and exercise every day. Moderate exercise helps to increase the pathogen -destroying white blood cells of our immune system.
· Sleep: While we sleep our bodies produce and organise the immune cells and proteins that initiate the immune response, fight infection and facilitate healing. Inadequate sleep causes an imbalance in immune function which leaves us vulnerable to infection by harmful pathogens.
Top 5 immune-boosting nutrients.
1. Vitamin C: stimulates the production of white blood cells which fight off viruses and bacteria and help the body to produce antibodies which neutralize invading pathogens before they can harm us.
Vitamin C- rich foods include: red/yellow capsicum, kiwi fruit, black currants, berries, citrus fruits, apples, tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, green leafy vegetables, parsley, ginger and garlic.
2. Zinc: is essential for the growth and function of cells that facilitate our immune defence. In addition to regulating the immune system, zinc supports healing and recovery.
Zinc is found in animal products (beef, lamb, turkey and chicken) and shellfish (oysters, scallops, lobster), but is also found in plant-based foods such as cashew nuts, almonds, beans, lentils, chickpeas, mushrooms, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and quinoa.
3. Vitamin D: plays a regulatory role in the immune system by triggering a strong, anti-microbial response to fight off invading pathogens before they become an infection. Our primary source of vitamin D is by absorption through the skin during exposure to the sun. On those day when the sunshine is elusive or it is just too cold be outdoors, include some Vitamin D-rich foods: cod liver oil, salmon (canned or fresh), sardines, mackerel, brewer's yeast, eggs.
4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: the health benefits of these essential fatty acids are too numerous to list. They reduce inflammation, support a healthy immune response and optimize brain and cognitive function. Food sources of Omega-3 fatty acids: oily fish (salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, anchovies), walnuts, chia seeds, hempseeds, linseeds (flaxseeds), soy beans.
5. Probiotics: around 70% of our immune system is found in our intestines. The good bacteria that line the walls of the gastrointestinal tract protect us from harmful bacteria by competing for space and food. Probiotic bacteria are found in fermented foods including: miso paste, tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, kombucha.
A well-nourished and well-rested body, together with good hand washing practices and an awareness of personal space, will help to keep all of our precious kids healthy and safe this winter.