Keeping our littles happy and healthy is of paramount importance to us as parents, and amid the current coronavirus pandemic, the stakes are higher than ever. Maybe you’re already taking active measures to bolster your kids’ resistance to illness, encouraging them to stay active, eat healthy and get plenty of sleep — if so, you’re on the right track. All these efforts are worthwhile, but experts agree good nutrition is key to a robust immune system, our children’s best line of defense against illness. Not sure where to start? Read on for easy ways to strengthen your child’s immunity and overall health with a powerful trifecta of nutrition, exercise and stress reduction.
EAT THE RAINBOW (AND DITCH THE SUGAR)
Kids often gravitate toward less healthy options like chips, crackers and fruit snacks, but eating manufactured foods too often suppresses immunity. “Refined sugar and processed foods can alter energy levels, create mood fluctuations and contribute to an increased toxic burden which negatively affects immune system health,” says Julia Scalise, PhD, a holistic health practitioner in Margate City, and author of Do One Thing, Feel Better/Live Better: 31 Easy Tips to Improve Physical, Emotional, Mental and Spiritual Vitality. Offering a variety of healthy, whole foods rather than nutrient-stripped, mass-produced snacks is a surefire way to help your child thrive.
A good rule of thumb when it comes to what our children eat is to keep ingredients to a minimum. “Eat the rainbow, but don’t forget white, brown and black,” says Melissa Halas, RDN, a Los Angeles based nutrition expert, and author of The Plant-Based Boost. White foods like onions and garlic, and brown foods like mushrooms are nutrient-dense and loaded with antioxidants. “The more colors of plant-based foods you can incorporate, the greater the health benefits; herbs are great too. Oregano has two times the antioxidants as a cup of grapes,” Halas says.
If we’re loading our kids up with nutritional supplements, it’s more beneficial to source vitamins and minerals directly from whole food sources. “All vitamins and minerals are important; some of the top ones for immune system strength are Vitamin A, C, D and zinc,” Dr. Scalise says. Orange foods like carrots and sweet potatoes are high in Vitamin A, citrus fruits and cruciferous vegetables are great sources of Vitamin C, zinc is found in meats, nuts, legumes and more. Dr. Scalise recommends getting your daily dose of Vitamin D by obtaining 10 minutes of direct sun exposure each day.
A healthy diet nurtures a healthy gut, which directly effects your child’s overall mood and behavior, but did you know water is an essential aspect of your health? “Kids consume way too many caloric drinks. If you do just one thing that’s easy to control, have your kids drink water — it’s the most important thing,” says Kristin Struble, MD, an Arizona pediatrician and gut-health expert.
TURN OFF THE SCREENS AND GET ACTIVE AS A FAMILY
If it feels impossible to peel your child away from their electronics, you’re not alone. Too much screen time is a big problem, especially with remote or distance learning requiring kids to be online so much. Blue light from screens disrupts melatonin production, which negatively impacts sleep, and sleep is a vital component of a healthy immune system.
To encourage our kids to get up and get moving, we need to embrace exercise ourselves. “Children do what their parents do more often than they do what their parents say, so when parents adopt a healthy lifestyle in nutrition and physical activity, children will more often follow suit,” Dr. Scalise says. “When we engage in movement, we enjoy an increase in endorphin production (also known as feel good chemicals) that boosts our mood. Movement also stimulates our body’s lymphatic system, defending against intruders like bacteria and viruses. By being active or moving, you help this system collect and eliminate these organisms and toxic waste products.”
TIME IN NATURE ENHANCES IMMUNITY AND RELAXATION
Nature presents us with the opportunity to free ourselves from the world’s countless distractions. Instilling an appreciation for nature in our kids is priceless — nature provides a multitude of benefits from relaxation to stress reduction and serves to stimulate immunity. “Nature nurtures,” Dr. Scalise says. “It has been shown to lower blood pressure, improve mood, and produce feelings of calm and joy, all of which are beneficial to the immune-boosting process.”
Earthing, or connecting to the natural energy of the earth with your bare feet on the ground, promotes a healing energy exchange. “Studies show that earthing/grounding and spending time in nature decreases inflammation, improves sleep, decreases pain, improves mood and enhances immunity,” Dr. Scalise says.
Halas recommends planting a garden of various vegetables and herbs with your kids in the spring to encourage them to try more plant-based foods. “Grow plants and flowers that are high in nectar for hummingbirds to enjoy or start a butterfly garden. Watching them is fun and peaceful,” Halas says.
With day-to-day stress at an all-time peak during the pandemic, we need the respite nature provides more than ever. Whether we choose to walk through a botanical garden, hike in the woods or simply observe wild animals in their natural habitat, spending time in nature is a great way to free our minds and restore our inner calm. Grab your kids, bundle up and head outside to embrace nature’s beauty. We promise you won’t regret it.