The only thing that stands between your kids getting sick, or not, is their immune system. I’ve already covered key aspects for supporting your child’s immune health here. But I thought I’d delve a little deeper and share the three key nutrients that are essential to the resilience of your child’s immune system (as well as ways to ensure your kids are consuming these critical micronutrients).
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, children (and adults) are falling well short of consuming the recommended servings of the nutrient dense foods required to keep them in good health. Alarmingly less than 1% of children (2-18yrs) consume the recommended daily servings of vegetables, legumes and beans, whilst only 31% were consuming sufficient fruits and 4.5% the recommended daily intake of meat/vegetarian sources of protein (1).
Unfortunately, these nutritionally dense foods are being replaced by processed foods resulting in nutritional deficiency which in my experience, commonly underpins poor immune function and the development of frequent upper respiratory tract infection (URTI).
A diet that contains a good variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and quality protein is essential to support a healthy immune system. These three critical nutrients must be present for a robust immune defence this coming winter:
No surprise here – vitamin C is long known for its role in supporting a healthy immune system. It not only helps to protect children from developing an URTI but can shorten the duration and severity of symptoms. It is a water soluble vitamin so it needs to be part of your child’s food intake daily to ensure deficiency doesn’t develop leaving the immune system vulnerable.
The most vitamin C rich foods are fresh fruit and vegetables. Ideally in-season and locally sourced so they haven’t been in storage for a long period of time and eaten raw or very lightly steamed. Vitamin C is not very shelf or heat stable so with storage, cooking and processing, a fair bit of the food’s vitamin C is lost!
The very best sources of vitamin C includes fresh, whole fruits (kiwi fruit, citrus fruits, berries, mango, pineapple, papaya and guava if you are in the tropics). Also fresh vegetables including capsicum (peppers), broccoli, cauliflower, kale, parsley, brussel sprouts, fresh peas and kholrabi.
In my experience, children with poor dietary variety and a limited or irregular fruit and vegetable intake are most at risk of developing a vitamin C deficiency. If you’re struggling to get your kids to enjoy eating immune supportive fruits and vegetables, this post might help (includes links to family friendly recipes too). If they point blank refuse vegetables, then this post is a must read with lots of easy to implement tips to have them loving their veggies in no time.
Zinc is an essential mineral for immune health and has been shown to be effective in reducing the number of colds per year in children. Antibiotic use and school absenteeism were are also found to be lower in those taking zinc supplements (2).
In my experience, zinc deficiency is often evident in fussy or picky children who eat a poor variety of foods or who eat a lot of processed grains (as the phytates which are present in bread, pasta, cereals and legumes bind zinc and inhibit its absorption). The most bioavailable sources of zinc are from animal protein sources such as red meat, poultry and seafood (especially oysters and shell fish). Well prepared (soaked / activated) nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes and pulses are also a source of zinc. Pumpkin seeds (pepitas) are an especially good source (for more about food fussiness and ways to included pumpkin seeds in your child’s diet, click here).
Mostly thought of for bone health, research has linked low vitamin D levels with an increase susceptibility to infection (as well as the development of auto-immune disease) (3). As children spend less and less time outside and exposed to the ultra-violet radiation from sunlight (especially during the winter months), vitamin D deficiency is an important consideration when looking to support immune health.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in winter, rates of Vitamin D deficiency were highest for those living in the south eastern states of Australia, such as Victoria and ACT, where nearly one in every two people (49%) were Vitamin D deficient in winter (5).
Foods like fish (both oily and white), mushrooms, eggs and some dairy foods are sources of vitamin D, so where sunlight exposure is limited, it is essential these foods are consumed daily (4).
Hippocrates, the father of medicine said ‘let food be thy medicine’ and there is no greater wisdom. Whilst improving the eating habits of picky children is essential, often supplementation is also necessary to bridge the gap. I’m always asked to recommend supplements at the end of these kinds of posts. Blackmores Superkids Immune Gummies or Chewables are a great, affordable an widely available supplement designed for little people (containing Vitamin C, Zinc and Vitamin D).
Disclaimer – Please always seek the advice of your health care professional before supplementing. Please consider, whilst I would love to help each and every one of you, I am not able to offer individual health or medical advice.
(1) Australian Bureau of Statistics. Key findings. Australian Health Survey: Consumption of Food Groups from the Australian Dietary Guidelines, 2011/12. http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/mf/4364.0.55.012
(2) Singh M, Das R. Zinc fro the Common Cold. Cochrane Library (2011) http://cochranelibrary-wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD001364.pub3/full
(3) Aranow C. Vitamin D and the Immune System. Journal Investigative Medicine. (2011) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3166406/
(4) Curtin University. Australians Deficient in Sunshine Vitamin. http://news.curtin.edu.au/stories/australians-deficient-sunshine-vitamin/
(5) Australian Bureau of Statistics. Key findings. Australian Health Survey: Biomedical Results for Nutrients, 2011/12. http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/Lookup/4364.0.55.006Chapter2002011-12
PS – This is a sponsored post. Of the many offers I receive to collaborate, very few eventuate as I’m a pretty tough to please! I only share products or services I feel will benefit or be of interest to you, my audience, products I personally find beneficial.