The kids have been back at school for a couple of months and you probably have had it already with colds and gastros, and all the winter bugs are looming. What if you could kick-start your child’s immune system, I mean really give it a boost?
Of course, I’m a dietician-nutritionist so I’m going to tell you vitamins and minerals from a varied diet with fresh fruit and vegetables will help your child’s immune system, but I’m also a French mum of a challenging eater so I know how to turn good advice into simple things anyone can do every day that will make a huge difference.
Firstly, the big picture is important, so let’s consider the longer-term view of an educated, well trained immune system?
Scientists are working to show how the brain, the immune system and our microbiota (gut and stomach flora) work together as a team. To put it simply the bacteria that our children are harbouring in their gut from birth is informing and training their immune system in its development day after day. A beneficial gut flora will do the work whereas its imbalance (dysbiosis) has been implicated in a wide range of diseases including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), obesity, allergic disorders, Type 2 diabetes mellitus, autism, obesity, and colorectal cancer in both human and animal models.
Making sure that your child maintains a beneficial balance of “good bacteria” is a very feasible and simple way to stimulate your child’s daily and long term health.
Since food intake influences the composition of the gut microbiota, it makes sense to help shape a healthy microbiota by providing it with beneficial foods.
Here are 3 important ways to feed the gut flora and replenish it throughout life.
A probiotic is a live micro-organism that, when delivered in adequate quantities, confers a health benefit on the host. To be called a probiotic, scientific evidence for the benefit has to be documented. Probiotics can be purchased over the counter at the chemist. They are safe to consume and can be taken daily. They should always be given after a course of antibiotics.
- Fermented foods
For thousands of years, humans have prepared and consumed fermented foods. These contain beneficial live bacteria that mimic probiotic action. You can buy fermented foods that say ‘live cultures’ such as yoghurt, kefir, fresh kimchi, fresh sauerkraut water or brine-cured olives, traditional salami and some cheeses. Please note, fermented foods that have been pasteurised, heated or cooked, such as tempeh, soy sauce, sourdough bread, and chocolate, do not contain live cultures.
Prebiotics are foods that nourish the beneficial bacteria present in the gut. According to Monash University, prebiotics is present in:
- Vegetables: Jerusalem artichokes, chicory, garlic, onion, leek, shallots, spring onion, asparagus, beetroot, fennel bulb, green peas, snow peas, sweetcorn, savoy cabbage
- Fruit: Custard apples, nectarines, white peaches, persimmon, tamarillo, watermelon, rambutan, grapefruit, pomegranate, and dried fruit such as dates, figs
- Legumes: Chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, baked beans, soybeans
- Bread and cereals: Barley, rye bread, rye crackers, pasta, gnocchi, couscous, wheat bran, wheat bread, oats
- Nuts and seeds: Cashews, pistachio nuts.
If you want to boost your child’s immune system choose your sources of good bacteria and pick 3 new foods from the list above. Start building those in the family eating habits, then come back and add some more. Yoghurt is an obvious and easy choice but what else can you add to your daily meals routine? Barley wraps? Oatmeal? If your child is a fussy eater and you are aiming to help them increase their intake of vegetables click here for some great ideas or use the link below for a free 15 minute chat with me.
 Role of the Microbiota in Immunity and inflammation
 Current understanding of dysbiosis in disease in human and animal models
 Wu, G. D., Chen, J., Hoffmann, C., Bittinger, K., Chen, Y. Y., Keilbaugh, S. A., et al. (2011). Linking long-term dietary patterns with gut microbial enterotypes. Science 334, 105–108. doi: 10.1126/science.1208344
You may also like to read: