Winter is officially arriving, and unfortunately, so has cold and flu season. Children’s immune systems need extra special care, especially when it seems you are surrounded by folks with the sniffles. Children’s exposure to bacteria is often significantly higher than that of adults, especially children in daycare or preschool, yet their ability to fight off a cold or flu is not quite as strong as a grown up’s. Here are a few ways to help keep kids healthy during cold and flu season.
To create a healthy immune system, it is important to provide the body with a whole-foods-based diet full of variety. Get back to basics by eating foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and lean protein. Fruits and vegetables not only contain vitamins but also are rich sources of antioxidants that help protect tissues from damage. It is best to aim for nutrient-dense foods, especially since infants and children eat smaller portions. Processed foods such as white sugar and flour or fast foods have been shown in studies to actually weaken the immune system. Don’t forget about an important nutrient that is often overlooked – water- so be sure your child is adequately hydrated to help flush out any bad bugs.
There are also many foods that naturally contain immune-boosting nutrients, so aim for a serving or 2 a day of:
Vitamin C rich foods: Bell peppers, dark leafy greens, kiwi, grapefruit, strawberries, tomatoes, cantaloupe, apricots, and broccoli.
Zinc-rich foods: Oatmeal, yogurt, legumes, peas, lentils, potatoes, and brown rice.
Some foods actually contain good “bugs” or beneficial bacteria called probiotics. These good bugs can also help the immune system as immunity predominantly resides in our digestive systems. Yogurt and kefir are excellent sources of beneficial bacteria that can help improve digestion as well fight the growth of illness-causing bacteria. Be sure to avoid yogurt brands that contain added sugar or food colorings.
One of the simplest, most effective cold and flu preventers is washing hands. Get kids started on hand washing as early as possible for a lasting healthy habit. Little ones are very tactile learners and like to touch everything they see so they come in first-hand contact with all sorts of bacteria. No need for antibacterial soaps though, as they may do more harm than good. Start with warm water, and work soap into a lather long enough to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star twice.
Our bodies tend to slow down in the winter, but a little movement goes a long way for child’s immune response. Be sure to make time to get your toddler’s body moving by spending less time in front of the TV. Physical activity increases white blood cells which help a body fight off infection. Exercise can also help ensure your child gets a good night’s sleep, which is also imperative for a healthy immune system. However, do not push too much activity if your child is under the weather because that is when he should rest.