Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Fending off the swine flu: A nutritionist's advice for building your child's immune system

“The good news is that there’s plenty you can do, starting with boosting your child’s immune system through her diet,” says Christina Schmidt, M.S., Nutritionist and Author of The Toddler Bistro: Child-Approved Recipes and Expert Nutrition Advice for the Toddler Years (Bull Publishing Company, 2009, ISBN: 978-1-933503-19-6, $16.95). “Protecting your child’s body from the inside through proper nutrition is not only a great strategy for warding off viruses, it’s healthy too! A healthy immune system is a powerful line of defense from those nasty viruses.” No amount of liquid hand sanitizer can help your child the second a germ enters her body so keep your kitchen stocked with foods that will help boost her immunity (and yours too!).

There are several nutrients and food components that are vital to keeping the immune system strong and functioning properly. Many of these nutrients act as vigilante antioxidants that help protect us from “scavengers” that might enter our bodies and increase our risk for various diseases. These nutrients also reduce inflammatory processes, compete with infectious bacteria and they can function to activate our complex immune defense army of white blood cells.

Looking to add to your defense arsenal to protect your child from H1N1 and seasonal flu this year? Read on for Christina’s checklist to help you serve up some immune system boosting, cold & flu-buster nutrients and foods. Serve your child foods that are rich in the following nutrients:

* Vitamin C: citrus fruits, berries, kiwis, peppers, tomatoes

* Vitamin E: wheat germ, nuts, fortified cereals, sweet potatoes

* Beta Carotene (Pro-Vitamin A): yellow and dark green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, orange squash, apricots, cantaloupe

* Zinc: meats, fish, poultry, fortified cereals, milk

* Iron: meats, poultry, fish, egg yolk, dried fruits, fortified grains, dark molasses

* Copper: meats, nuts, chocolate, cherries, whole grains

* Selenium: grains, meats, onions, milk

* Folic Acid: green leafy vegetables, eggs, meats, fish, beans, broccoli

* Vitamin B6: wheat germ, milk, egg yolk, meats

* Vitamin B12: milk, eggs, meats

* Omega 3 Fats: cold water fish, flax oil, soybeans, walnuts, dark green leafy vegetables

* Probiotics: yogurts with the “Live and Active Cultures” seal, fortified foods, supplements

* Garlic: as single ingredient or in variety of sauces, soups, ready to eat meals, supplements

“Some of my favorite cold and flu fighting family-friendly dishes are whole wheat or enriched grain spaghetti with tomato vegetable marinara mixed with chopped chicken or ground turkey; lemony chicken, vegetable and rice soup; sweet potato or butternut squash soup; carrots and ginger sauté; curried lentil stew; chili with stewed tomatoes and ground bison or other meat (optional); whole grain toast with a poached or scrambled egg; yogurt smoothie with fresh or frozen fruit; sliced oranges or grapefruit with seasonal berries,” says Schmidt. “We are coming into cranberry season—a berry rich in antioxidants—so be sure to take advantage of fresh cranberry relishes and baked goods as well.” You will find more recipes and menu suggestions in The Toddler Bistro.

“As you can see,” adds Schmidt, “by eating a healthy, balanced diet with a variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, seafood, or lean meats, you can boost your child’s immunity. These healthy foods and nutrients can arm you and your family in the fight to help prevent illness (or at least hasten a speedy recovery) from those bugs that circulate in schools and work places on their mission to turn your home life upside down!”

In addition to serving your child immunity-boosting foods, you may also consider supplementing her diet with multivitamins, probiotics, or omega 3 oils. Carlson for Kids makes several high-quality flavored omega 3 oils and chewable vitamins. Jarrow and Nature’s Way offer good probiotic powders while Rainbow Light and Centrum for Kids provide great one-a-day chewable multivitamins.

Of course, before giving your child any supplement, be sure to read the dosing instructions and keep them out of your little one’s reach! When giving any herbal supplements, check with your child’s doctor first and do not mix these with any other medications (unless the doctor says that it will be fine to do so). Also note that some herbal supplements are contraindicated for children or may cause allergic reactions so monitor your child for any reactions. Just do your homework before adding supplements your little one’s diet.

While serving your child immunity boosting foods to help him fight the flu, also note that there are some items that should be avoided. Foods that are high in refined sugars and saturated fats can have adverse effects. These foods do a number on the immune system by creating energy peaks and valleys and by fostering inflammation, so be sure to keep foods filled with refined sugars and saturated fats off the menu.

So as the H1N1 cloud looms overhead, remember that you aren’t as helpless and vulnerable as you may feel. You actually do have great ways to defend your family from the flu and those other sickening viruses out there. Practice the good habit of proper hand washing. Keep those little hands clean and teach your children that those germy fingers need to stay out of their mouths. In addition to germ-avoiding measures, remember that by giving your child the foods and supplements that will strengthen her immunity, you can enjoy this cold and flu season in good health—sniffle and fever free.

About the Author:

Christina Schmidt, MS, is a nutritionist and a certified nutrition educator who has been featured on NBC’s Today Show and has written nutrition articles for The Bump magazine. She is the author of The Baby Bistro, The Baby Bistro Box and Toddler Bistro Box. Christina also is President of Baby Bistro Brands and lives in Santa Barbara, California.

For more information, please visit

About the Book:

The Toddler Bistro: Child-Approved Recipes and Expert Nutrition Advice for the Toddler Years (Bull Publishing Company, 2009, ISBN: 978-1-933503-19-6, $16.95) is available at bookstores nationwide, and through major online booksellers

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