Immune development in kids is quite complex. The immune system begins to develop when the embryo is just 5 weeks old and it completely developed at birth. However it can take up to 2 years before your child will have a properly functioning immune system and an adult level of immunity. This is because we literally need to get ‘sick’ in order to grow and develop the immune response. At birth, while the immune system itself is fully developed, kids are born with an ‘imbalance’ in the immune response. Their immune systems are highly alert to look for allergens, but not very good at fighting infection. It is only once exposure to bugs takes place that the immune system is able to balance out and function optimally. Studies have shown that a 1 year old that suffers from more than 2 colds a year is much less likely to suffer from asthma and eczema by age 7. So a few colds a year is actually a good thing for your toddler! It's ensuring that a quick recovery takes place that is the important part.
All the research shows that if you get on top of the symptoms as soon as they start, they should not be sick for long. Here are some dietary tips, as well as a collection of the handiest products, home remedies and foods to keep in the house to support immune health- think of them as your natural essentials for winter.
Eat every colour of the rainbow: Provide as many different coloured fruits and vegetables as you can into each meal. Different coloured veggies and fruit have different phytochemical and nutrient profiles and ensures your child is getting a wide spread of nutrients. I realise this can be a hard one for some kids. Hide whatever veggies you can. Try a green smoothie or a veggie juice as a great way of getting a few serves of veggies in a day.
Adequate iron intake: Low iron levels are very common in toddlers and iron is essential for a healthy immune response. This is usually due to it being difficult to eat/chew red meat products and low levels of green leafy veggies. Offer red meat 1-2 times every week. Iron is also found in high amounts in green leafy veggies, parsley, almonds, lentils, broccoli, dried peaches, dried apricots, prunes.
Avoid sugary foods: Sugar depresses the immune system and feeds bacteria and should be avoided, especially when unwell. Avoid sugary drinks such as cordial and bottled juice. Avoid highly processed and prepackaged snack foods that are usually high in sugar. Ensure you check ingredients labels for extra sugar and avoid.
Lower dairy products: While milk is an essential part of a toddlers diet it does increase mucous formation. So, if your toddler has the sniffles cows milk will make this worse. Aim to lower milk intake as much as you can while sick. Use a variety of milk sources such as oat, rice, soy, goats, sheeps or almonds milk to avoid over-doing the dairy products. Try coconut yoghurt instead of a milk-based yoghurt while they are unwell.
Manuka honey: Manuka honey has natural antibacterial properties (and taste good!). A teaspoon a day is a great way to prevent infection. A spoonful can help a sore, irritated, or itchy throat and calm a cough. Manuka honey can be found in most health food stores and will have a UMF reading to describe its antibacterial strength. Use a 25-35+ UMF for immune health.
Garlic: Garlic is nature’s own antibiotic and works quickly to kill bacteria, so should always be on hand to cope with colds and flus. You can consume it by adding into foods (such as stir fry, soups, stews, curries, guacamole etc.). Try rubbing raw garlic over toast before adding your toppings, such as avocado. You can add a crushed garlic clove to olive oil to make olive oil ear drops for ear infections and ‘garlic socks’ work well on infants. Try crushing some garlic into your Manuka honey- a powerful combination that tastes fine. Yes, the odour will be evident for a few days but better to be smelly than sick J
Ginger: Ginger has many immune based actions. Firstly, it is warming which helps to control a fever. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory and has some anti-viral activity. It has been shown to improve the function of our white blood cells, therefore boosting immunity. It also adds great flavour into your food! There are many ways you can increase your ginger intake. You can add a knob of ginger into a fresh juice. It’s delicious in stir fry’s. If you child will sip on a warm and weak herbal tea that is an easy option too.
Vitamin C- Vitamin C tops the list of immune boosting vitamins for many reasons. Vitamin C increases the production of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies and increases levels of interferon, the antibody that coats cell surfaces, preventing the entry of viruses. Good sources include oranges, berries, strawberries, cabbage, broccoli, kiwi fruit. A freshly squeezed fruit and veggie juice with orange, kiwi, carrot, and pineapple is an easy way to increasing C levels.
Zinc- This valuable mineral increases the production of white blood cells that fight infection and helps them fight more aggressively. The best food sources of zinc are cashews, almonds, seeds, green veggies, fish, and animal meats.
Probiotics- Are the most essential supplement to help develop a toddler’s immune response and can be given daily and long term. They are even more essential if your child has needed antibiotic treatment. Specific strains of probiotics are needed for a child’s immune health, so look for a probiotic promoted for kids and for immunity. My top recommendations are the Bioceuticals Ultrabiotic Immune Support or Ethical Nutrients Inner Health Plus for Kids- Immune Booster.