Immunity is a word that has become more important and more known than any other word in healthcare during 2020. Covid-19 is largely responsible for this increased awareness in one’s immunity and the immune status of those we love and especially when it comes to our children.
What is Immunity?
Our immune system is the body’s army. Its purpose is to seek, kill and destroy all potential harmful invaders. Two key factors when going into battle is to:
1.) Know your enemy so you can plan your strategy and
2.) Keep strong and fit so you can fight effectively.
Knowing your enemy is another way of saying “acquiring immunity”. The way you acquire immunity is to be exposed to the enemy, in this case a virus, and then the immune system creates antibodies that are ‘programmed/trained’ to fight that particular virus. Once you have antibodies, the immune system will forever and a day be able to fight that particular virus to the point where it won’t even make you ill. This is the mechanism of vaccines. This is what we are anxiously waiting for, development of a Covid-19 vaccine.
There is a catch though and that is – in order for the immune system to make sufficient and strong antibodies to fight a particular viral infection, it has to be healthy, strong, abundant and responsive.
How do we keep our children’s immune systems strong, healthy, abundant and responsive?
- Good sound nutrition
We will focus on #3 – good sound nutrition.
However all five need to be in place in order to ensure your little ones ‘army’ has the best chance of forming antibodies.
The idea behind good nutrition for boosting immunity is two-fold.
Firstly, which foods should we include that will strengthen the immune system.
Secondly, which foods or food additives should we avoid that could weaken the immune system.
Starting with the second group:
Let’s look at how and why certain foods might weaken the immune system.
Our immune system is there to protect us against viruses and bacteria. When our immune system starts to protect us against other foreign compounds it produces unstable molecules called free radicals. Free radicals cause cell damage to immune cells as well as other body cells.
Unnatural, artificial and refined food ingredients are seen as foreign and could cause the body’s immune system to be distracted and occupied taking their focus off real enemies like viruses. These are likely to generate more free radicals.
Foods that have preservatives, additives, colorants, emulsifiers and artificial sweeteners.
Refined starch foods and foods high in sugars are more likely to generate free radicals. Processed meats and smoked meats that contain nitrates like bacon are also producers of free radicals.
Deep frying and using fats that become trans fats when heated like margarines and some oils are also more likely to produce free radicals.
Foods that strengthen your immune system:
There are some food habits that we can adopt to defend us and our little ones against free radicals and thus strengthen our immune system.
A table full of fresh and colorful well-cooked foods help protect our little ones body and thus her immune system against the damage of free radicals. Here are top ten tips.
- Eat whole grains – unbleached stone ground flours, oats, oat bran, whole-wheat products with minimal preservatives and additives.
- Beans and pulses like lentils – ensure they are well cooked – always tender and easily squeezable
- A range of fruit and vegetables every day. The great news is that cooking veggies enhances antioxidant activity so for fussy eaters you can hide some veggies and fruit in homemade muffins and sauces.
- Raw vegetable oil as well as nut oils poured over pastas, vegetables and salads.
- Shallow frying in canola or coconut oils.
- Fish, fish and more fish – white sustainable fish like Hake and Kingklip and Basa and fatty fish like Salmon and Angelfish all should be served to your little one 2-3 times a week.
- Ginger, turmeric, thyme, sage, rosemary, oregano – used fresh have wonderful antioxidant properties.
- Smoothies and juicing are wonderful ways to incorporate fruits and vegetables into your child’s diet.
- Fruit ice and homemade avocado and coconut ice cream are wonderful antioxidant treats.
- Last but not least water in abundance and regularly throughout the day. Fill a jug with fresh water and cut some fruit into the water and allow flavours to infuse.
Kath Megaw (BSc Dietetics Hons, Diploma Paediatric Dietetics) holds four medical qualifications including a paediatric dietetic qualification from the prestigious Johns Hopkins University in Balitmore, USA. She has been published in the Epilepsia journal on the use of the paediatric ketogenic diet in third-world settings and frequently speaks to groups of both professionals and parents on infant and childhood nutrition. Kath is the author of Real Food, Healthy, Happy Children (Quivertree Publications), the co-author of Feeding Sense (Metz press), The Low Carb Solution for Diabetics (Quivertree Publications),as well as co-author of Weaning Sense and Allergy Sense (Quivertree Publications). Kath has been in private practice for over 18 years and is the founder of Nutripaeds, a paediatric dietetic practice.