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Ask the Nutritionist: Cold & Flu Prevention Strategies

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by Marilyn Walls, M.S., PCC Nutrition Educator

It’s here, the dreaded cold and flu season, that time of passing around bacteria that perpetuate runny noses, coughing and missed school. It’s a dream of beleaguered parents to protect their child against this cycle of illness.

kids_playing_fallHow can I keep my kids from getting sick?

Nothing guarantees safety against viruses, but there are ways to improve your child’s immunity. No doubt you’ve heard much of this before: help your kids get enough rest, limit their intake of sugar and processed foods, and eat a rainbow in all its seasonal colors. With the many challenges of winter, it’s more necessary than ever to “let food be your medicine.”

Should we avoid certain foods?

Sugar has the potential to suppress the body’s immune defenses for four to six hours after ingestion. Just imagine the damage that the regular indulgence of candy and soft drinks can do! Both sugar and processed foods also lack nutrients that are actually good for you. By choosing fresh, seasonal foods you can rewrite the nutritional equation from minus to plus. Think hearty soups made from vegetables like squash, pumpkin or sweet potatoes. Their yellow and orange colors provide carotenoids to strengthen mucous membranes, making those moist tissues better able to trap and eliminate pathogens. Adding pears, apples or dried cranberries to these soups can make the taste more kid-friendly and increase the antioxidant levels.

Can taking vitamins help?

Vitamin D is your ally for a strong immune system. There are vitamin D receptors throughout the immune system, which, like a key in a lock, need their daily dose of vitamin D to activate and put T-cells to work. Vitamin D also regulates clearance of bacteria and lowers the risk of respiratory infections. Living under the Northwest’s cloudy skies makes this sunshine vitamin hard to come by. But the Northwest is not alone; as much as one third of the U.S. is thought to be deficient in vitamin D. To make things even tougher for vitamin D intake, it is naturally present in very few foods. Salmon, tuna and other fatty fish top the vitamin D charts and egg yolks provide small amounts. Mushrooms are miniature vitamin D factories. Leave mushrooms in the window soaking up any sunlight there might be, and they will continue manufacturing vitamin D. Shiitake mushrooms are especially beneficial for building immunity. What about a stir fry or burrito including mushrooms and carrots? Thankfully, supplementing with vitamin D is inexpensive, and liquid vitamin D drops are easy for kids to take. While the RDA for babies up to 12 months is 400 IU a day and 600 IU a day for kids from 1-18 years, always check with your healthcare professional when making decisions about vitamins and herbs.

If your child is eating less sugar and more nourishing foods, the ability to get enough sleep may follow. And remember that a cup of organic chamomile tea is relaxing and anti-inflammatory for your child. You may need a cup yourself after working hard to enhance your family’s health!

marilyn_wallsAbout Marilyn Walls
Marilyn Walls, M.S., is a graduate of Bastyr University, where she subsequently taught for three years. She has been a long-time staffer at PCC, where she has created healthy recipes and shared her knowledge about vitamins, supplements, herbs and essential oils. She loves to read, and has written articles for local publications. Marilyn is currently writing a book on Alzheimer’s disease and brain health.

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