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During the years of development, children have an increased susceptibility to infections such as colds. This is where the right nutrition can really make a difference.

What is the link between nutrition and immunity?

Think about the nutrients from the foods we eat as fuel for the immune system to modulate responses to invading pathogens and also for overall immune maturation. The food we eat also influences our microbiome and as we know, the majority of the immune system is housed in the gut. Therefore, it only makes sense that our gut flora can influence immune development and response to pathogens.

What are some key nutrients and foods to focus on?

When it comes to supporting immunity, there is no single food, which is the Holy Grail. Instead, feeding your child a balanced diet rich in immune supportive nutrients and foods is the best approach to take. Some specific vitamins and foods to pay attention to include:

Vitamin C
Undoubtedly Vitamin C comes to mind when talking about immunity!
As humans, we cannot make our own vitamin C and it must be consumed via the diet and/or supplementation. Vitamin C is beneficial for reducing the severity and duration of colds along with relieving symptoms of allergies.

Food sources and how to use:
Cauliflower: serve raw cauliflower with mashed avocado as snack, cauliflower puree at night or finely chopped cauliflower added to fried rice.
Capsicum: serve raw with a dip, add to stir-fry’s or finely dice and add to salads.
Kiwi fruit: add to smoothies, dice and serve on cereal or yoghurt or simply serve as part of a fruit platter.

Similar to Vitamin C, zinc can assist with immune function and can help to reduce the severity and duration of colds. Zinc deficiency has also been shown to increase susceptibility to infections in children.

Food sources and how to use:
Pumpkin seeds: add to baked goods, sprinkle on meals or add to a trail mix.
Beef: make into patties, finely slice and add to stir-fry’s or dice and make into kebabs with vitamin C rich capsicum!
Wholegrains: serve as a dinner side, mix cooked grains with dried fruit/seeds and top with yoghurt as an energising snack or add to lunch box salads.

Omega-3 essential fats
Omega-3 essential fats cannot be made by the body, hence the name ‘essential’ and must be consumed via the diet or supplementation. Omega-3 fats exert an anti-inflammatory effect in the body and are believed to positively modulate the immune response.

Food sources and how to use:
Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel or sardines): make into patties, serve with mashed sweet potato and greens for a simple dinner or mash with avocado and spread on wraps.
Hemp, flaxseeds and chia seeds: sprinkle on cereal or yoghurt, add to baked goods or stir into smoothies.
Walnuts: crush and add to stir-fry’s, add to salads

As mentioned, the gut houses a large percentage of our immune system and probiotics work to create a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut. Specific strains such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus rhamnosus, may assist in supporting cellular immune responses and overall immune function.

Food sources and how to use:
Yoghurt: add to smoothies, serve as a snack with fruit or turn into a dressing by blending yoghurt with herbs and lemon juice (or avocado for a creamy taste!).
Kefir: serve straight up as a daily shot, add to smoothies or pour some over cereal as a topper.
Fermented veg: add to salads, as a dinner side or in wraps.

Just like protein is important for growth and development generally, amino acids which we get from protein rich foods are also necessary to fuel immune cells. Some amino acids are considered essential because the body cannot make its own supply. Making sure your child eats a wide variety of protein rich foods is the best way to ensure they are getting an adequate supply of all of the amino acids. Examples of protein rich foods include meat, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts/seeds and tofu.

Nutrition aside, lifestyle practices can also impact immunity including:
Sleep: interleukin-1 an immune supportive substance is released during sleep. Make sure your children are getting enough shuteye nightly.
Exercise: can increase white blood cells and assist the body’s ability to fight pathogens. Encourage children to be active daily.
Hand washing: encouraging children to regularly wash their hands, especially prior to eating is a good way to help protect against germs.