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Boost your kids’ immune system…naturally!

Summer is definitely over and with the cold weather come those nasty winter bugs. Your little one’s immune system is still maturing and may be more susceptible to viruses and bacteria which explains why children tend to get runny noses more often than grown-ups!! 

It is next to impossible to protect children from all those bugs going around at nursery. But believe it or not, that is actually a good thing as their immune system needs to be exposed to pathogens to mature, so it can fight them more efficiently later in life.  

So, what can we do to support their maturing immune system? Quite a lot nutritionally speaking! 

First of all, bring on the vitamins! 

White blood cells need plenty of vitamin C to stay healthy and fight off infections. Here are a couple of hacks to ensure your little one gets all the vitamin C he or she needs: 

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables are high in vitamin C which are also packed with antioxidants and fibre.  
  • Highest sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits, kiwi, broccoli, peppers and tomatoes.  
  • Fruit juices are packed with sugar (even if it is natural sugar!) which fights vitamin C for transport into the cells, so best to eat the whole fruit and avoid juices and juice drinks, especially long life ones and those with added sugar and additives.   
  • Don’t forget that vitamin C is heat sensitive and degrades over time so steam your veggies whenever possible and don’t let them sit around too long before feeding them to your baby.  

Vitamin A has anti-viral properties and supports mucous membranes (yes,  that create a physical barrier between our body and pathogens. 

  • The highest source of vitamin A is liver, but if not to your baby’s taste, eggs, cheese and milk are also good sources.  
  • Our favourite way to get plenty of vitamin is to add lots of red, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables to our diet which are rich in Beta-carotene, an antioxidant that the body can convert to vitamin A.  
  • Here are some ideas to add beta-carotene to your diet: add some red peppers to your pasta sauce, sweet potatoes to cocoa muffins, make pumpkin risotto and super-power your pesto with green leafy vegetables such as spinach.  

Another immune system booster is vitamin E which helps keep our infection-fighting white blood cells membranes in good shape. But that’s not all, vitamin E can help protect the skin in the winter months when dry skin and eczema resurface. 

  • Avocado is a brilliant source of vitamin E as it can be mashed or blended into all sorts of purées or dips for little ones to have fun and feed themselves heathy! Almonds are very high in vitamin E too so add almond butter to bread sticks – as long as it is very smooth and baby is not at higher risk of developing a nut allergy.  
Potassium

Vitamin D is produced by the skin when we expose it to the sun. In the UK, we don’t get much sunlight in the winter and given that kid’s skin needs plenty of sun protection in the summer, vitamin D reserves might be running low.  

Vitamin D plays a very important role in the maintenance of the immune system and deficiency has been identified as a risk factor in viral infections such as the flu. 
The current NHS recommendation is for babies under 1 year of age to take 8.5-10mcg of vitamin D a day unless they are drinking more than 500ml of formula/day. For children aged 1 and adults the recommendation is 10mcg (400IU)/day. Which on the low side even if your vitamin D levels are good!!

My advice is to check your vitamin D levels – you can easy do a finger prick test– and supplement accordingly following your GP or nutritionist advice.

And of course, minerals! 

Minerals play a very important role in supporting the immune system. Zinc from seafood, red meat, nuts and seeds, is essential for the production of antibodies that help fight infection. Another less known mineral, selenium, plays an important role in the activity of the cells of the immune system. Adding brazil nuts (well ground) to bakes, salmon to fish cakes and having red meat once or twice a week can boost their selenium reserves. 

And a couple more things for strong immunity 

Protein from beans, pulses, eggs, dairy, fish and meat helps support the immune system so ensure your little one’s meals always have a portion of it. Just a palm size portion of chicken or handful of well-cooked lentils (their size, not yours) is plenty to keep their immune system ticking along nicely.  

Curcumin, the deep yellow component of turmeric, has immune-modulating properties which can help regulate the immune system for babies those suffering from allergies or asthma.

And of course…limit sweets intake because sugar temporarily depresses the immune system for up to 5 hours, lowering its ability to fight off infections. 

For a full version of this article including references, please email pilar@purplecarrotnutrition.co.uk If you would like to hear about new postings, please join our mailing list