Keeping your children well when they go back to school is not always easy. Regardless of their age, they are going back into packed classrooms full of germs, and our changing Irish climate means immunity is often compromised. For parents, that means niggly colds, sore throats, tummy bugs, ear infections, and lots of other fun stuff!
So what can you do? How can we, as parents, help to protect our children from numerous doctors’ visits throughout the year?
The importance of a healthy balanced diet with plenty of nutrients can never be overstated when it comes to protecting your children from illness. But as we all know children can be fussy creatures when it comes to eating, which makes our job as parents even more difficult. There aren’t too many children who get excited about green leafy vegetables, oily fish, and fruit on a regular basis.
In a perfect world children would get all the nutrients they need from a healthy and balanced diet, but we don’t live in a perfect world. So here is a guide to the nutrients that are important, what they do, and where they can be found.
Vitamin A helps fight against infection by strengthening the body’s mucous membranes, and is important for bone development and eye function. Vegetable sources include carrots and dark green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin D supports the immune system, helps the body assimilate vitamin A, and helps the body to absorb calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, and zinc. It is also vital for strong bones and healthy teeth. Vitamin D can be obtained in the diet from fortified milk, oily fish, eggs, fortified breakfast cereal, and margarine.
Calcium is a mineral which helps to build and maintain a strong skeleton. Growing bones need constant nourishment and calcium, which is why calcium is such an essential nutrient in your child’s diet. Traditionally the best sources of calcium are milk, cheese, and yogurt. More digestible sources of calcium include green vegetables, bread, nuts, and beans.
Vitamin C is a multi-functioning vitamin. It can speed up wound healing and boosts the immune system to fight off coughs and colds. It is crucial for the healthy growth of teeth, bones, ligaments, gums, and blood vessels. Citrus fruits (oranges and grapefruit ) and their juices, and green vegetables supply us with most of our vitamin C requirement.
B Vitamins, including B12, B6, thiamin, niacin, folic acid, and riboflavin, work best as a team. Each has a distinct role to play in the body, and has a wide range of effects including proper nerve function, digestion, and energy production from food, also needed to maintain healthy skin and will boost energy by helping the body breakdown foods. Good sources of these B vitamins include meat products, bread and fortified breakfast cereals, potatoes, and vegetables.
Zinc is an essential nutrient found in every cell in the body and performs many important functions in the digestive, immune, reproductive, and nervous systems. The main sources of zinc include meat and meat products, milk and milk products, bread and cereal products.
Probiotics are good bacteria, beneficial because they promote good digestion, facilitate the absorption of nutrients, boost the immune system, and help prevent an overgrowth of harmful organisms in the digestive tract. Probiotics can be taken as a daily supplement as they help build a healthy digestive system by replenishing levels of ‘good’ or ‘friendly’ bacteria in the gut.
If your child has had a course of antibiotics it is particularly important to give him a regular course of probiotics over the following weeks to replace the beneficial bacteria lost. Allergies, thrush, colds, and flu are all signs that the immune system is functioning below par. Topping up the levels of ‘good’ bacteria in the gut will help boost the body's immune function. Diarrhoea can also flush out the intestinal bacteria, including the ‘good’ ones, this can leave the body vulnerable to infections, so boost your child’s immune system by replenishing the ‘good’ bacteria that have been lost.
Essential fatty acids: Every single cell, organ, and tissue in the body needs a daily supply of EFAs. These fats can affect mood, behaviour, intelligence, and emotions. EFAs are converted into prostaglandins — hormone-like substances — that, among other things, regulate white blood cells, making them vital to the functioning of the immune system. If your child lacks EFAs he may be prone to colds, infections, and allergies.
EFAs include both omega-3s and omega-6s. The essential omega-3 fatty acid, alpha linolenic acid, is crucial for brain and eye development and also important for children as it has benefits for the immune system. Fish and fish oils are probably the best source of omega 3 fats EPA and DHA, but the content varies depending on the species of fish. The best fish sources are salmon, herring, tuna, pilchards, mackerel, and sardines. All dark green leafy vegetables also contain omega-3 fatty acids, as do oils such as pumpkin seed oil, flaxseed oil, and walnut oil. If you are vegetarian, or want to avoid fish oil, flaxseed oil (sometimes known as linseed oil ) has the highest content of the omega-3 ALA, twice as much as fish oil.
Omega-6 fatty acids are found in cereals, eggs, poultry, wholegrain breads, margarine, and oils such as sunflower, corn, soya, and evening primrose.
The effect of these EFAs on brain development in children has been the subject of much research in recent years. It is now believed that whether your child is a toddler or teenager, if you want to ensure that his brain reaches and maintains its full potential make sure he incorporates omega fatty acids into his diet.
One of the simplest ways to make sure your child gets all this and more is to give a daily multivitamin from one of the reputable manufacturers who will have done your homework for you. Essential fatty acid supplements and probiotics are also widely available now for children and tend in come in flavours that are conducive to a child’s fussy palate. See your local Evergreen Healthfoods for more information on children’s nutritional supplements.