Meet our first expert, Dr. Jennifer Heiger!
Dr. Heiger is a naturopathic doctor with a women’s health practice in San Diego. Prior to that, she led the naturopathic practice in Los Angeles for Private Medical and focused on a spectrum of chronic diseases in multiple practices in Seattle.
Nutrition is always the best place to start. Eating well helps build a strong immune system and will be the first line of defense against getting sick. Some of the best known nutrients important for immune health are Zinc, Vitamin C, Folate, Selenium, B Vitamins, Vitamin D, and Beta-carotene.
Adding a variety of foods is important to make sure we’re giving our kids a wide range of immune-boosting nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals (plant compounds acting as antioxidants). So, mix it up!
These vegetables may not be on the favorites list for most kids, but there are options to add them into other foods or dress them up in more appealing ways! Broccoli, kale, radish, turnip, cauliflower, cabbage, boy choy, and arugula are all great examples and high in Folate, Beta-carotene, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E. The phytochemical, Sulforaphane, is also abundant in cruciferous vegetables and known for its immune-boosting effects!
Citrus fruits get all the attention when it comes to Vitamin C, but red peppers have twice the amount! In addition, red peppers contain the immune-boosting nutrients Beta-carotene and Vitamin E.
These are still considered high in Vitamin C, and have lots of antioxidants. It’s best to consume oranges, grapefruit, and tangerines in their whole form which increases fiber intake and decreases the amount of sugar you would consume from drinking just the juice. The fiber content also slows down the absorption of sugar. And the pith—the white part between the skin and fruit—contains as much Vitamin C as the fruit itself!
Blueberries! Blackberries! Raspberries! Kids love all of them, and they’re loaded with immune-boosting properties because of their phytochemicals and Vitamin C.
One of my favorite nuts, the Brazil nut is a wonderful source of selenium, an antioxidant that enhances the immune system and is a natural antiviral against the flu. One to two Brazil nuts a day is all that’s needed for kids. Brazil nuts can be chopped up and added to oatmeal or on top of berries, or you can mix Brazil nut butter with other popular nut butters.
Pumpkin seeds are an awesome source of healthy fats and zinc—an antioxidant and antiviral that helps maintain optimum immune function. Pumpkin seed butter is creamy and delicious, and adding a small amount of maple syrup makes it a great dip or spread.
Fermented and Prebiotic foods
Our digestive health greatly affects our immune system and vice versa. The bacteria in our guts (the microbiome) support the development of immune cells and help fine tune our immune response, and the immune system promotes the growth of these beneficial bacteria.
You may already be familiar with probiotic foods—yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and miso are all great options—but prebiotics are the other shining stars to support our microbiome. Prebiotics help feed the good bacteria—and most importantly, they feed the bacteria we can’t sometimes find in fermented foods. All plant foods are great, but the powerhouse prebiotic foods are leafy greens, leeks, bananas, onions, garlic, chicory root and Jerusalem artichokes.
It’s not always easy to get all the needed nutrients from food, especially with kids—and even more so with picky kids! Two simple supplement options will help improve their immune response.
A multivitamin is a great addition to a healthy diet, but not all supplements are created equal. A high-quality brand I often recommend is Smarty Pants Kids Formula. It tastes delicious and contains the proper forms of vitamins and minerals.
Probiotics offer the same benefits as fermented foods and may provide different strains of good bacteria to help increase the diversity of our microbiome.
When your child does get sick, we can still reduce the severity and length, not to mention ameliorate the symptoms.
My #1 go-to remedy for preventing and treating the flu is Elderberry syrup. Kids love the taste, and it has powerful antiviral properties. It’s good to start taking at the first signs of being sick or if other family members have fallen ill to prevent it from spreading.
When choosing an Elderberry syrup, look for an organic product with less sugar. A great option is Gaia Herbs Kids Black Elderberry Syrup.
Extra Vitamin C
Multivitamins contain Vitamin C, but adding more Vitamin C when not feeling well can help give the immune system an extra boost. There are chewable and powders available for kids.
As with all health and wellness strategies, it’s important to realize that nutrition and supplements (or quick remedies) function holistically with other healthy habits, like getting enough sleep and reducing stress. Hopefully some of these tips can help lessen the chance of your kid getting sick and prevent it from spreading.