Episode 22: Foods To Boost Your Kids’ Immunity
Today we are continuing on with our Kids’ Immunity Series! In this episode, I will be talking about how we can use food and nutrition to boost our kids immune systems. What action we can take to make sure our family’s immune systems are as robust as possible as we head into winter.
I will be sharing some practical tips on which processed and nutrient-depleted foods to avoid. Foods that boost the immune system and how to encourage and teach your kids to eat more healthier foods. Some of the highlights include:
- Sugar being an immune system depleter
- Adding more antioxidants into your kids’ diet – “more colours equals more nutrients”
- Using herbs and spices to add into your food to boost immunity
- How fermented foods can help improve our kids immunity and more
- Get your copy of our Foods to Boost Immunity cheat sheet here
- Listen to Episode 21: Understanding and Supporting your Child’s Immune System
Hello, hello! Welcome back to the podcast.
Jessica Donovan here, from Natural Super Kids. Today we are continuing on with our Kids’ Immunity Series. We started this series last week in Episode 21. It’s not a prerequisite to have listened to that episode for today’s episode to make sense. However, I would encourage you to make some time to go back and listen to Episode 21, the previous episode. It is all about understanding and supporting your kids’ immune system. And I feel like it’s some really valuable information to know as parents when it comes to our kids immune systems. Understanding how they work and how we can best support them.
But today, we are diving into food and nutrition to boost your kids’ immunity. Which in my opinion, is the most important thing that we can take action on as parents as we head into winter. To make sure our whole family’ immune system is as strong and robust as possible to avoid as many of those infections. Those pesky winter infections as possible. Also, to ensure that when our kids do get sick, they will recover and bounce back a lot faster.
As we discussed in last week’s episode, it is inevitable for kids to get sick fairly regularly because their immune systems are still developing. So if kids got a nice, strong robust immune system, they will recover and bounce back a lot faster. Which I guess is really the marker of a healthy immune system. It’s not necessarily how often our kids are getting sick. It’s how quickly they bounce back from sickness. And of course, as parents, that’s what we want. We don’t want constantly sick kids through the winter, and so we want to be focusing on foods and nutrition to boost our kids’ immune system.
The immune system is very complex. What we do know about the immune system, the cells and the organs, and the other different parts that make up the immune system is that it is powered by nutrients. Those nutrients should and can come from the food that our children and our family eat. I often say this information is very translatable from kids to adults. What I talk about today in terms of the foods and nutrients that do help our kids have a nice, strong robust immune system will also help us as adults and parents to have a nice, strong robust immune system as well.
As I said, nutrients should come from the food that our kids eat. But unfortunately, kids these days are eating a lot of processed packaged, nutrient depleted foods. And so a lot of this food just doesn’t contain these powerful immune boosting nutrients in there. With a few little changes and tweaks to our kids’ diets and the food that we have available for our families, we can really help to supercharge our kids’ immune systems. Now a lot of these processed, packaged, nutrient depleted foods that are creeping into our kids’ diets. Almost becoming normal to have multiple packets in our kids’ lunchboxes and that sort of thing.
Yes, on one hand, they are depleted of nutrients because of the processing and the different types of ingredients that are going in there. But on the other hand, they are also high in sugar and other ingredients that deplete immunity. So before we move on to some of the specific foods that we can focus on to boost our kids and families immune system, I do want to take a moment just to talk about sugar in particular. Sugar is an immune system depleter. This is really important to understand. I think as parents we know that sugar is not good for our kids.
Too much sugar is not good for our kids. It can lead to mood issues, behavioural challenges, gut problems and all kinds of things. But a lot of parents don’t understand that sugar actually depletes the immune system. The research shows that a high sugar diet reduces phagocytic activity. Phagocytic activity or phaygocytosis is the process in which some of our white blood cells engulf any microbes, germs or unwanted things within our body. And so this is to do with our innate immune system, which is often what our kids are relying on. Because the adaptive part of their immune system hasn’t developed very much yet. I talked about this in last week’s episode, in the previous podcast episode if you’re not sure what I’m talking about.
That innate side of the immune system that the kids are born with, the phagocytosis is a big part of that. So it’s not specific. Our neutrophils are cruising around the blood, they’re one type of our immune cells, white blood cells. They cruise around the blood, and they’re basically scouting out or looking for any invaders. When they find an invader, like a virus or a bacteria that can make our kids sick, they go through a process of phagocytosis. Which is basically to engulf that microbe or unwanted bacteria virus that is in the bloodstream and get rid of it.
And so, a high sugar diet decreases this phagocytic activity which is bad news for our immune system. We want to look at this really simply, sugar in the diet. High sugar diet actually makes our immune cells lazy, it slows down their function. It’s really important to understand that neutrophils, which are one of our first lines of defense against infections are slowed down by a high sugar diet or even a high sugar meal. So that’s one of the negatives that sugar has on our kids’ immune systems and on our own immune systems as well.
The other negative effect that sugar has is that it blocks vitamin C absorption into the cells. I think that most people are aware that vitamin C is really important in healthy immune function. It’s one of the best selling supplements for kids and adults. And we know when we’re sick, that vitamin C is going to help us to recover quicker. It also can help to improve our immune defenses so we don’t get sick as often. And so a high sugar meal or a high sugar diet actually blocks vitamin C absorption into cells. Those cells cannot utilise vitamin C for that healthy immune function.
Sugar, a high sugar diet or meal has a double whammy, a double negative effect on our kids’ immune functions. It’s reducing that phagocytic activity and it is blocking vitamin C absorption into cells. And this is not even to mention, the negative effect that sugar has on our gut microbiome. Our gut microbiome is paramount in healthy immune function as well. There’s a number of different ways that sugar negatively affects our kids’ immune systems. And I think this is really important to understand because a lot of kids have too much sugar in their diet. It can creep up and creep into their diet in lots of different ways.
You know, a lot of kids are starting the day with a high sugar breakfast cereal. Almost all the commercial breakfast cereals out there have high sugar content. Then they’re snacking on sugary yogurt pouches, Muesli bars and other snack foods throughout the day, even savoury foods. Particularly things like pre-made marinades, pasta and curry sauces, and salad dressings. Even things like bread can have quite a high sugar content. So sugar can be quite overwhelming when we think about reducing sugar in our family’s diet. My recommendation is to focus on reducing sugar in the breakfast that our kids are eating. Also reducing our kids’ sugar intake when it comes to the snacks that they’re eating.
Because by far, within the naturopathic work that I do when I’m looking at kids’ diets, the majority of sugar intake is coming in through either breakfast and or snacks. So we want to be thinking about some low sugar breakfast options for our kids. That could be as simple as a whole grain porridge with some fruit and potentially some nuts and seeds. We can add some natural sugar to that porridge. Something like a bit of honey, maple syrup or rapadura sugar. We don’t need to cut sugar out of the diet completely. But when we’re making more of a whole food breakfast like that for our kids, as opposed to just a bowl of commercial breakfast cereal. We can dramatically reduce the amount of sugar that they’re having.
There’s a whole heap of other options as well. We could go for chia puddings, we could go for eggs for breakfast. Scrambled eggs and a piece of toast. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but we want to move away from high sugar breakfast for our kids. If you are a Natural Super Kids Klub member, we have dozens of low sugar breakfast options that don’t take a lot of time to make within the Klub membership portal. So make sure you have a look there if you are a Klub member. The other area as I said, we want to be thinking about reducing sugar is snacks. Lots of kids are eating sugary snacks throughout the day. Packet sugary snacks have become the norm for kids as opposed to an infrequent treat.
Kids are having one or maybe even two packets of something within their lunchboxes every day. Or maybe eating more sugary processed snacks when they get home. Some of those snacks that you might think of as healthy, such as yogurt pouches or Muesli bars have a lot more sugar than you would think they do. So we want to be having a look at ingredient labels. If you don’t already know this, ingredients are listed in the most prominent ingredient first. So if we’re seeing sugar as the first, second, third, even fourth ingredient, then it’s probably going to be a high sugar snack or a high sugar breakfast. We want to be looking at those ingredient labels and looking at the nutritional panels.
A big tip here is to move away from so many processed packet snacks and move towards more homemade snacks. And again, if you’re a Klub member, we have lots of recipes for you in the membership portal. Quick and easy snacks that you can make for lunchboxes or any snack throughout the day. We want to be thinking about moving towards lower sugar snacks and breakfast cereals for our kids to really help improve and boost their immune function. I really wanted to talk about that and focus on that first. Because if we’re focusing on getting more foods into the diet that are boosting our kids’ immune systems but we’re also including lots of sugary foods in their diet, then it’s like trying to fill up a leaky bucket.
We might have some success and some healthy effects on the immune system. But they won’t be as effective if we are not sort of plugging up those holes in that leaky bucket. Which is where reducing sugar in our kids’ diet can make a really big difference. It’s one of the biggest factors that I see in kids that are constantly getting sick, is that they do have too much sugar in their diet and they’re reducing that immune function. Now we’ve got that out of the way. The biggest negative factor when it comes to the foods that our kids are eating on their immune system. Let’s move on and talk about some of those really important factors of foods and nutrients that can help to boost our kids’ immune systems.
To make this really easy for you, we have created a free download called the Foods To Boost Immunity Cheat Sheet. There, we list a whole heap of our favourite foods that help to boost your kids’ immune systems. This is really handy! You can download a copy, print it out, stick it on your fridge. Have that constant reminder of these foods that you can include in your family’s diet to help boost their immune systems throughout winter.
Head on over to the show notes to get the link to download this foods to boost immunity cheat sheet for free. Then we’ll also follow that up with some emails talking about some different recipes and practical ideas of ways to get these foods into your kids diet. So make sure you download that cheat sheet. We’re going to be diving into some of those points on the cheat sheet today. The first thing that I really want to talk about is antioxidants.
Antioxidants are a group of nutrients. That include things like Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Zinc and others that help to power a whole range of different immune cells. To boost immunity, we want to add more antioxidants into the diet. It’s easy to spot a plate that is high in antioxidants because it’s full of natural brightly coloured foods. To put really simply, brightly coloured natural foods fruits and vegetables. I’m not talking about Skittles or lollies that are un-naturally flavoured or have those unnatural colours and flavours in them. I’m talking about those natural colours will have high antioxidant content. So the more colours that are on a plate, the better.
We want to make our kids lunchboxes colourful, we want to add colour to their breakfast. Add colour to their dinner. We want to be adding those natural colours into our family’s diet wherever we can. Some of my favourite high antioxidant fruits and vegetables are berries, carrots, sweet potato, pumpkin, citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, different coloured capsicum. The red, yellow and the orange capsicums, beetroot, dark green leafy vegetables can be good. I know they’re not always easy to get into kids but we can add them into things like sauces and smoothies. So high antioxidant foods are really important, and the thing that you need to remember is colour equals antioxidants.
Another important thing to remember is, heating and processing can reduce the levels of a lot of these antioxidants. So in the winter, we naturally cook more of our food. I know we do, at our house we have more warm foods, hot foods. We tend to move away from salads towards more cooked vegetables, soups, casseroles and lovely winter foods like that. But being aware that antioxidants are damaged by heating and processing, we do want to make sure that we’re including some raw fruits and veggies in the diet. So adding some salad veggies to the lunchbox is a great way to include some high antioxidant foods. You can do like a winter salad. Some cooked veggies but incorporate that with some raw veggies.
You can also do like raw veggies on a plate with your cooked meal. Things like sauerkraut and other fermented veggies which I’m going to be talking about in a moment, can be a really good option here as well. I often put a jar of sauerkraut in the middle of the table to add that raw element of food into our meals in the winter. It’s a raw veggie, raw cabbage which often has other beneficial ingredients in there for the immune system as well. So colourful food and making sure that you’re still including raw food in the diet through the winter to maximise that antioxidant intake for your family.
The next thing I want to talk about is herbs and spices. So there’s a whole range of herbs and spices that can have beneficial effects on the immune system. Many herbs and spices are anti-microbial, antioxidant and contain immune boosting nutrients. Some of my top picks are things like garlic, ginger and turmeric. Adding these kinds of foods to meals through the winter can be pretty simple because as I said we can add them quite easily to our casseroles, our soups, and that sort of thing. The Immune Boosting Cheat Sheet, which I encourage you to download, has a little handy tip for garlic. To really make sure that we are optimising its medicinal benefits.
A little hint here is that cooking garlic can really damage the medicinal properties, the immune boosting properties. And so this little trick that you’ll find on the cheat sheet is really important to understand and it doesn’t take a lot of time. It’s a really simple thing to do. I’m not going to share it here, I’m going to keep it a secret for the cheat sheet. So make sure you download that to get that little garlic tip. I also love to add herb such as oregano, thyme, parsley and dill into my family meals. I do a combination of some of these herbs fresh, sprinkled over the top of things like casseroles, soups and into winter salads. But I also do some dried herbs as well.
So things like dried oregano into a Polonaise sauce. Herbs and spices are a really good way to add flavour to your winter meals. They also have, as I said, many of those immune boosting properties that are so important when it comes to keeping our family’s immune system up high through the winter. If you’re thinking, “Hmm, my kids are not going to eat those strong flavours, those herbs and spices”. A little tip that I have is to think about foods that your kids already like. Maybe pizza, and try adding a little bit of oregano or a little bit of parsley onto a homemade pizza. Even a bought pizza and see how they respond to that. So start small and build it up.
Adding it to those foods that they already eat can be a really good way to introduce those kind of flavours to your kids. And you might be surprised, a lot of parents are surprised by how well their kids accept or tolerate these strong flavours of herbs and spices. It’s a really good way to broaden a child’s palate as well, to be introducing these herbs and spices into meals. With fresh herbs, you can simply put a bowl of chopped up parsley or dill in the middle of the table. The kids can help themselves and sprinkle as much as they want onto their meal. So let your kids kind of take the lead if they are fussy eaters as well.
Now, fermented foods. I’ve already sort of mentioned this, but I want to bring this to your attention again. Fermented foods can improve our kids’ immune system in a couple of ways. The first one is that they improve our family’s gut health by adding in that really healthy good bacteria. Fermenting vegetables also enhances the nutrient levels of that food. So it’s a two for one deal for your immune health. As I was saying, we get that negative double whammy with sugar. Really, it’s a triple double whammy when we’re talking about the microbiome as well. And fermented foods will give us that positive double whammy for our immune health. So I know the biggest issue with fermented foods is compliance. A lot of kids don’t like the taste.
But I would encourage you to experiment with different fermented foods by making your own fermented foods. Trying different fermented veggies from the farmers market or the whole food store. And remember, a little bit goes a long way with fermented foods. Your kids do not have to eat bowlfuls or even spoonfuls of fermented foods. They get a lot of benefits from a small amount. So again, we want to start small. Start with a little bit of the juice from the sauerkraut and or just one little sliver on your kids’ plate. You can mix it in with foods that they’ve already got on their plate that they enjoy, and they will start to develop a taste for it.
My daughter is a perfect example of this. She never really liked fermented veggies and we have just kept putting it in the middle of the table. Encouraging her to try a little bit here and there. And now she’ll spoon a whole heap onto her plate and eat it. So try different flavours. You know, just because your child doesn’t like one sauerkraut, doesn’t mean they won’t like others. I give the example again with my kids. We found an apple and dill-flavoured sauerkraut from our local farmers market which they really like. They don’t really like a lot of the others. So I will just always make sure we’ve got that one in the fridge. Again, if you’re a Klub member, we’ve got lots of ferment recipes within the Klub membership portal.
Things like cashew cheese and lacto-fermented tomato sauce. You’ve got to think a bit wider than just, “Oh, I tried sauerkraut with my child and they don’t like it.” Be creative and be persistent because fermented foods have a lot of benefits for our family’s health. Their immune health, their gut health which always go hand in hand. Persist with those fermented foods and try different recipes. Get your kids involved in making them as well. They’re great little science lessons for the kids to see that ferment bubbling away, and kind of see that process of making ferments.
You can look at drinks, fermented drinks, like a coconut kefir. Or even a dairy kefir if your kids aren’t so keen on the fermented veggies. So there’s lots of different options out there and they do have lots of benefits to your kids’ overall health. As we’re talking about today, particularly their immune health. If you don’t already have fermented foods in your diet regularly, then I would encourage you to include them. I love a bit of sauerkraut with my scrambled eggs and parsley. On top, that’s a really regular lunch that I have and that helps keep both my gut and my immune system nice and healthy.
So what we’ve covered in today’s episode has given you a lot to think about and to take action on. I just want to summarise those points that we’ve talked about. One is reducing sugar in your kid’s diet, focusing on breakfast and snacks is a really great start for that. Number two was include colourful, antioxidant rich foods in your family’s diet. Three is to include those herbs and spices in your family’s meals. And four is to consistently serve those fermented foods to your family for both the immune and gut benefits that they will give.
We have a more comprehensive list of Foods To Boost Immunity Cheat Sheet that you can download for free. So head on over to the show notes and that will give you lots of little tips and tricks on how to get these foods into your family’s diet as well. I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s episode.
I’d love to hear from you on Instagram, send me a message. I am Natural Super Kids over on Instagram and I love to hear from our podcast listeners over there. Let me know what one action you are going to take based on today’s episode to boost your family’s immune system. Don’t forget to download that Foods To Boost Immunity Cheat Sheet. We will be back next week talking about those more persistent recurrent infections that some kids have that tendency to suffer from. So I look forward to bringing you that information next week. I’ll see you then!