Coughing, feverish, congested, nauseous, lethargic, ugh, ugh, ugh.
The more I chat with other moms, the more I hear about little ones (and big ones) who are battling one or more of the above.
Winter can be a wonderful time of year, as long as everyone is well. As a nutritionist who works with mothers and kids (especially those little ones who are considered to be “picky eaters”) I have a few things I recommend to keep illness at bay, and one of my tips is to avoid what I like to call immune busters.
Let me share these with you:
I’d love to see a sugar-free diet all year round but I am a realist. It’s the holidays and those shortbread cookies are hard to escape. But it’s important to limit general consumption and avoid sugar when an illness is brewing.
Why? Sugar suppresses the immune system, slowing down its ability to fight off infections. When white blood cells are exposed to excess sugar they cannot effectively gobble up the bad bacteria. This makes children more prone to infections. So if your little one frequently gets ear infections or colds, remove sugar and you will likely see fewer illnesses. Note: Honey is a sweetener I’m OK with for children 1 year+ in small doses, because of its other health benefits and antimicrobial properties.
I am not a fan of juice for many reasons but for the purpose of this topic (which is immunity) I suggest we avoid all unnaturally sweet things including apple juice, orange juice, etc.
Why? OJ has 25 grams of sugar (5 tsp) and most pop or cola products have about 30 grams. Yikes! Even the natural juices, cow milk, almond and soy milks contain sugar so it’s best to stick with water, breastmilk or formula (age dependent) for all the reasons listed above [see “Sugar”]. Other benefits: a better appetite and fewer cavities!
Mucous is a thick, cloudy and sticky substance that plays an important role in the body, lubricating all the internal organs and membranes. However, it is also produced in response to potential toxic invaders and substances that irritate the body. If a child is congested or gets upper respiratory infections, it may be wise to remove dairy from the diet.
Why? Milk is one of the mucous-forming foods that can may make mucous thicker and more irritating to your throat than it would normally be. Plus milk is high in sugar (12 grams per cup of whole milk) and we already know why sugar feeds sickness.
When we’re ill, the body’s limited energy and resources are focused on ramping up the immune system. Hence, other functions are temporarily weakened including the digestive system. Changing up our diet can help our body focus resources where it’s needed most.
Why? Fats are difficult to digest under normal circumstances, but when an infection strikes they are even more challenging to manage digestively. Stick to more nourishing and lighter foods like soups, steamed veggies and fish to give your body a break.
Antibacterial hand washes
Well-meaning parents wipe down our children and their toys with anti-bacterial wipes/soaps which kill germs AND the “good bacteria” their bodies need. Hygiene is important, however constant sanitization may be doing more harm than good.
Why? Babies are born with an immature immune system that takes time to strengthen and ‘learn’ how to deal with the pathogens it confronts. They need exposure to bacteria and viruses in order to figure out what to do with them. Exposure to small amounts of dirt and infections grooms their immune system. Without this priming effect, they can overreact to things that are normally harmless such as pollen or animal dander. Like antibiotic overuse, anti-bacterial products also create super bugs that we can't kill. Moreover, antibacterial soap products contain chemical ingredients.
According to the FDA: "New data suggest that the risks associated with long-term, daily use of antibacterial soaps may outweigh the benefits. There are indications that certain ingredients in these soaps may contribute to bacterial resistance to antibiotics, and may have unanticipated hormonal effects that are of concern to FDA”.
We may not be able to shelter our kids (nor ourselves) from all the illnesses around us, but we can prime our immune systems for battle. Adding in foods and supplements to support it, while removing the foods, beverages and other products that weaken it. The benefits of staying well are far reaching – a better appetite, improved sleep, and of course, a happier holiday.
Danielle Binns is a Certified Nutritionist & Picky Eating Expert. More importantly, she’s a mom who gets it. With qualifications in Holistic Nutrition and Children’s Feeding, Danielle knows firsthand how to transform picky eaters into healthy eaters. Her evidence-based strategies and “Picky Eater Protocol” changed mealtimes forever for many families, including her own. Danielle also has a special place in her heart for ‘little ones’ who are underweight – like her daughter – and offers programs to help them thrive. You can find her at www.daniellebinns.com.
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