Give your child’s immune system a boost of good nutrition this winter
By Karen Kerr, registered holistic nutritional consultant
For the last 18 months, we’ve heard a lot about vaccines, masking and social distancing, and for good reason. There has been less — and in some cases, confusing — information on the importance of nutrition.
Good nutrition won’t protect you from COVID-19. There are no magic supplements to ward off the disease. Vaccinating, handwashing, disinfecting, masking, and distancing remain the best practices.
But a well-balanced diet, along with good sleep, exercise and low stress, does help the body better resist infection and disease. There is ongoing research in nutrition centres around the world that is gaining a better understanding about how nutritional status is important to maintain a strong immune system, with scientific measurements about how nutrition plays a role in the resilience of the individual when fighting disease.
Our bodies are in constant contact with viruses and bacteria, and for the most part this is good. For our immune system to be strong, our bodies need some exposure to germs.
A diverse microbiome, all of the good bacteria that is in our gut, is often the best measure of a healthy, strong immune system. As parents, it’s important to help build our children’s immune responses. With the added home and work stress of a global pandemic, keeping track of your children’s nutrition is challenging.
The immune system is complex. If one aspect of this process is compromised, it affects everything else. While much of this is happening automatically, there are ways that you can influence a well-functioning immune system.
In my holistic nutrition studies, I’ve learned that the immune system has two lines of defence. The first is our innate defence, consisting of our physical barrier (our digestive tract in this case) and our natural ability to rapidly respond chemically with inflammation, as when you get a paper cut.
The innate system works quickly and is non-specific. The second is our adaptive defense, which creates our immunity as specialized cells recognize an evader, mark it, and create antibodies that will protect the body against further invasion. Food has nutrients that aid both of these systems.
When you consume a whole foods, plant-based diet the majority of the time, you will receive most of the benefits that food has for the immune systems. But I’d like to highlight a few superstars.
Let’s start with fibre. Many people don’t know how fibre plays a supporting role in overall health. Fibre creates an environment where beneficial bacteria can thrive in the gut.
Then there are the foods that have both pre- and probiotic properties, such as yogurt and sauerkraut, feed the beneficial bacteria in our gut. Vitamin D and Vitamin C foods help the cells in both our innate and adaptive systems.
It’s important to note that sugar (which is in most processed foods) has a net negative effect on the immune system. Refined sugar is heavily present in most children’s diets; reducing it will only benefit them.
Here are some easy substitutes for sugary foods to support immune systems
- Plain yogurt topped with berries versus sugary desserts that masquerade as yogurt
- Sourdough sandwich topped with vegetables instead of a white bread sandwich with processed cheese
- Homemade granola bar versus a chocolate coated store-bought bar
You see where I’m going. I know this way of eating isn’t possible all the time, but where you can, you should. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about doing what you can, when you can.