When winter officially hits, so do the bugs. My family and I are currently wading through the tail end of the winter term, tissues shoved into pockets, crossing everything that the lurgy doesn’t get us! They are thoroughly enjoying a surge in pre- Christmas treats but amidst all the sugar, is there anything healthy and wholesome we can encourage them to eat to protect their immune system at this time of year?
Firstly, what about supplements?
Supplements tend to make big promises, which seem extra appealing at this time of year.
What supplements do children need all year round?
If your child is under five, they should be taking a daily multi vitamin (usually in liquid form) giving them A, D and C. Vitamin D drops especially are recommended from birth, even if you as the Mum are taking vitamin D supplements. These are required unless your baby is taking over 500mls formula milk.
If your child is over one and you’re concerned about your child’s food intake generally, then a multi vitamin and mineral supplement is a good safety net but single doses of specific vitamins are not recommended unless you have been advised to do so by a doctor or registered dietitian. If you have concerns about your child’s food intake or growth then please speak to a Healthcare Professional.
What supplements are just for Autumn and Winter?
If your children are over five, then vitamin D needs topping up between October and March when the sun’s rays are few and far between and at the wrong angle to enable us to make vitamin D under our skin, which is where most of our supply comes from. Same goes for us parents as levels across the UK have been shown to be lower than they should be. Vitamin D is needed for bone health, but also has many other roles in the body including a role in immunity.
Secondly, what food and nutrients can help protect their immune system?
Vitamin C is often associated with preventing the common cold – sadly this has not been proven to be the case, but there is some research to show it can shorten the duration of a cold once you’ve caught it. That’s a good enough reason for me to lob a few extra satsumas at my children this season!
Vitamin C is quite a fragile vitamin; even though it’s found in abundance in fruits and veg, it is sensitive to heat and water, both of which can destroy it. For this reason, offering fruit and veg raw whenever you can will make full use of the vitamin C they contain. When cooking, keep them in large pieces and steam or stir-fry if you can. Luckily a lot of children prefer raw veg to cooked, so providing they’re not prepped hours in advance they’ll be bursting with vitamin C. Top choices would be peppers, kiwis or citrus fruits.
Other vitamins you’ll often hear associated with immunity include vitamin A, B12 and vitamin E. At this time of year, boost their intakes with foods rich in beta-carotene as this converts to vit A in the body. Take a look at our pumpkin recipes for some inspiration.
Vitamin E is present in nuts, seeds, avocado and green vegetables. If your children are over five, nibbling on some nuts as part of a trail mix would be a great immune-boosting snack; otherwise seeds can be added to flapjacks or Christmas bakes for extra goodness. Vitamin E is stored in the body, so we don’t need large amounts on a daily basis.
Zinc and Selenium
Keeping with the theme of nuts, two brazil nuts provide all the selenium we need for the day. It’s not a well- known mineral but does play an important part in protecting our immune system. Zinc is found predominantly in protein foods, whether that be meat, shellfish, pulses or lentils, so we shouldn’t be short of this mineral, especially if Turkey is on the menu!
What about the gut?
Gut health is remaining on trend for 2020 as the power of the trillions of bacteria in our guts come to light. Part of their talents involves protecting our immune system, as 70% of our immune cells actually lie within the gut. Looking after these bacteria to keep them diverse and healthy in numbers is now realised as an important factor in protecting our health. Bacteria love to eat fibre – all the stuff in fact that we can’t digest. Special types of fibres called prebiotics are their favourite - found in foods such as leeks, artichokes and garlic. Not big favourites for my children unfortunately, but you’ll also find inulin added into foods such as cereal, wraps and yoghurts so look out for it. For now, feeding our bacteria a good, varied diet is a better priority than seeking out expensive probiotic supplements. More to come on this developing area in 2020.
Have a happy, healthy Christmas – see you for more Nourishing News in 2020!