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Fight The Winter Colds - Support Your Immune System

Updated: May 9

Welcome to Autumn… the time of year that leads to the inevitable arrival of the cold bugs. With the kids back at school, the risk of exposure to various viruses and bacteria increases, making it crucial to support their immune systems.

While there is no magic bullet to prevent illnesses, proper nutrition plays a pivotal role in strengthening your children's, and your, body's defences against the dreaded onset of snotty colds. So, what can you do to support the family’s immunity and fight off those cold bugs that bit quicker?

Firstly… we don’t want to ‘boost’ your immune system. Boosting would mean allowing our immune system to become overactive, which can lead to autoimmune disorders (where the immune system attacks healthy tissues).

We don’t want that.

However a suppressed immune system can leave us more susceptible to infections.

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What’s key is supporting the immune system to help keep it in balance, rather than boosting it to excessive levels.

So stay away from the ‘immune boosting’ supplements. Instead, focus on a healthy immune-supporting diet and lifestyle to provide your family's immune system with the nutrients it needs to work as it should. And here’s some of my top tips on how to do this:

1. Vitamin C: The Immunity Superstar

When it comes to fighting off colds, vitamin C takes centre stage. This powerful antioxidant helps by supporting the production and function of immune cells. Citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, and tangerines are renowned for their high vitamin C content, but there are plenty of other options as well. Bell peppers, strawberries, and broccoli are excellent sources of this vital nutrient.

2. Zinc: A Key Player in Immunity

Zinc is another essential nutrient for maintaining a strong immune system. This mineral is involved in various immune processes, including the development and activation of immune cells. Foods rich in zinc include lean meats like poultry and beef, seafood (especially oysters… although not a popular choice for many children), beans, nuts, and dairy products.

Incorporate zinc-rich foods into your child's meals by preparing chicken, prawn or beef stir-fries with plenty of vegetables or by offering yoghurt with nuts and berries as a tasty and nutritious pudding option. Add some strawberries to this for a vitamin C hit too!

3. Probiotics: The Gut-Immunity Connection

Did you know that a significant portion of the immune system resides in the gut? Probiotics, often referred to as "good bacteria," help maintain a healthy balance in the digestive system and support immune function. Natural yoghurt, kefir, and fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi are excellent sources of probiotics. But getting children to eat these fermented foods can be easier said than done.

So what you can do is provide food for the beneficial bacteria already residing in their gut, to help them thrive. And this is where fibre comes in. Foods high in fibre, such as whole grains, legumes, vegetables (with the skins on where appropriate), nuts and seeds, promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Incorporate wholegrain bread and pasta, lentil soup, and fresh fruit salads into your child's diet to increase their fibre intake.

4. Vitamin D: Sunshine in a Nutrient

Vitamin D is not only essential for bone health but also plays a crucial role in immune system regulation. During the winter months, when sunlight exposure is limited, it can be challenging to obtain enough vitamin D naturally. Fortunately, certain foods can help fill the gap. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and trout are excellent sources of vitamin D. Some foods, such as milk, are also fortified with this important nutrient.

5. Garlic: Nature's Immunity Booster

Garlic has been revered for its immune-boosting properties for centuries. It contains compounds like allicin, which have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects. While the scent of garlic may not always be kid-friendly, you can incorporate it into meals subtly. Try adding minced garlic every day to soups, stir-fries, or pasta sauces for a flavourful immunity boost.

6. Hydration: The Often Overlooked Hero

Staying hydrated is essential for overall health, and it can also help the body fend off illnesses. Water plays a critical role in the function of immune cells, so make sure your child drinks enough throughout the day. Herbal teas, such as chamomile or ginger tea, can be a soothing and hydrating option during the colder months.

7. Colourful Fruits and Vegetables: Nutrient Powerhouses

A diet rich in colourful fruits and vegetables provides a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support immune function. Encourage your child to eat a rainbow of fruits and veggies, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, blueberries, and kiwi. These foods offer a diverse array of nutrients to help strengthen their immune system.

8. Stay Away from Excessive Sugar

Excessive sugar intake can weaken the immune system. No one likes to hear this, but high sugar consumption can suppress your immune function and make the body more susceptible to infections. Encourage your child to enjoy sweet foods in moderation and prioritise healthier snacks and ‘pudding’ options.

9. Sleep

There's not much that sleep won't help with. When we sleep our body produces molecules which regulate our immune response and prevent excessive inflammation. Sleep also has the added benefit of decreasing stress (which can itself weaken the immune system). Getting adequate rest when you have a cold can help fight off that cold that little bit easier.

By making these food and lifestyle-focused adjustments to your child's diet, you can empower them to face the back-to-school season with a stronger immune system, reducing their susceptibility to illnesses and ensuring a healthier and happier school year. Oh, and don't forget about you... these tips also help us parents fight back against these colds more easily!

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