I’ve been concerned about swine flu since the very first media report. And while a part of me wants to keep my children locked up in the house, I realize that’s not a very smart (or realistic) strategy.
So instead of worrying myself sick with what I have no control over, I’ve decided to focus on what I can do. And that’s helping my kids build a super-strong immune system. So in addition to washing their hands and making sure they get enough sleep, I’m maximizing their nutrition at every meal and snack.
Nutrition deficiencies compromise the body’s (cells’) ability to effectively ward off disease. Research shows that specific nutrients are especially important for a functioning immune system. So here are 10 easy ways to bolster you family’s defenses with everyday foods.
1. Have an orange a day – During infections and stress vitamin C levels decline. Because vitamin C helps maintain the integrity of disease-fighting cells, low levels can compromise the body’s ability to fight back. Other vitamin C-rich fruits include strawberries, cantaloupe, kiwi and mango.
2. Make yogurt a regular snack – The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is the largest organ involved in the immune system. Yogurt contains live and active cultures, healthy bacteria called probiotics that are health food for the gut. Look for yogurts with the Live and Active seal.
3. Top that yogurt with some nuts – Nuts are a good source of magnesium which plays a role in the development and function of immune cells. Remember nuts can be a choking hazard for young children. I get the unsalted dry toasted sliced almonds from Trader Joe’s – they are super-crunchy and perfect for yogurt.
4. Supplement with D – Are you sick of vitamin D yet? I’m not! A recent study in Archives of Internal Medicine revealed that people with low vitamin D levels caught more colds than people with normal levels. At your next doctor’s appointment get your levels checked and consider following the AAP’s recommendation to supplement children with 400 IU daily.
5. Make winter squash a menu mainstay – One of my favorite fall foods is vitamin A-rich butternut squash. Research shows that adequate dietary intake of vitamin A is clearly needed for a strong immune system. Erin from 5 Dollar Dinners shows how easy it is to bake butternut squash. Your kids will love it!
6. Get milk – Milk contains the micronutrient copper. Deficiencies of copper can adversely affect the immune response. Don’t worry if milk is not your family’s thing as copper can be found in variety of foods including whole grains, nuts, seeds and chickpeas.
7. Make room for protein at meals – Red meat, poultry, beans and nuts are all good sources of zinc, the most studied nutrient when it comes to the immune system. A zinc deficiency can wreak havoc on the body’s ability to fight infections.
8. Be smart about fats: Studies show that getting “in balance” with fat can help the body in disease-fighting mode. So try cooking with olive and canola oils, eating fatty fish and cutting back on products made with soybean and corn oils (next month we’ll have an expert on fat explain this in great detail – so if you haven’t subscribed yet do it now!)
9. Spread avocado on a turkey or cheese sandwich – Avocados are an excellent source of vitamin E, an antioxidant that protects cells from the damage of free radicals. If you don’t love avocado there is plenty of vitamin E in nuts and canola and olive oils.
10. Have eggs for breakfast – Eggs are an excellent source of selenium. Through complicated biological processes, selenium helps prevent the formation of disease-causing free radicals. Not a big fan of eggs? Other sources include tuna, beef and rice.
Armed with a strong immune system, your family will be ready to fight anything that comes their way this winter even if it is the Swine flu.
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Kubena KS, McMurray DN. Nutrition and the immune system: a review of nutrient-nutrient interactions. J of the Am Diet Assoc. 1996;96:1156-64.
Ginde et al. Association between serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D level and upper respiratory tract infection in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Arch Intern Med.2009; 169: 384-390.
Weaver et al. Effect of dietary fatty acids on inflammatory gene expression in healthy humans. J Biol Chem. 2009 Jun 5;284(23):15400-7.