Did you know that at least 70% of your immune cells reside in your gut? Gut associated lymphoid tissue or GALT for short is the largest mass of lymphoid tissue in the human body containing a variety of important elements that together play a vital role in the function of the gut and our immune health. The foods we feed our children on a regular basis will have an affect on the beneficial microbes that live in our gut and keep our immune system healthy. What’s more recent studies have shown that our intestinal microbiome plays an important role in modulating the risk of many modern day chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and obesity. Therefore nutrition and diet play a crucial role not just in our immune health but our overall health. It’s important to limit inflammatory foods and increase anti-inflammatory foods where possible.
Your children don't have to catch every illness going round playgroup/ nursery/ school.
Here are my Top Five Tips to improving your child’s immune system for 2020.
1. Reduce inflammatory foods
Dairy, processed sugar, trans-fats, refined carbohydrates, and processed meats. Dairy produces excess mucus so I recommend removing or reducing this when your child has a cold.
Sugar feeds the bad bacteria in your gut so when our diet is high in sugar (white pasta, bread, sauces, cakes, biscuits, chocolate) the good bacteria cannot thrive causing your immune health to suffer. I'll be writing more about how sugar affects our health in my next post as I'm working on a sugar reduction guide to be released this month!
Diets high in fat have been shown to decrease beneficial bacteria and increase bad bacteria in our guts.
2. Increase anti-inflammatory foods
Foods with a high antioxidant content like berries, acerola cherries, beetroot, green veggies and olive oil help prevent inflammation. Turmeric, nuts and seeds, pineapple, avocado and oily fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, and herring) are all highly anti-inflammatory. Elderberry extract and echinacea may also help strengthen the immune system when taken at the start of a cold.
3. Eat prebiotic and probiotic foods
These help to maintain a healthy gut. Prebiotic foods such as garlic, onion, asparagus and barley help to feed the good bacteria. Probiotic foods like kefir, sauerkraut, natural yogurt, kombucha or a probiotic supplement in
powder form help to create the variety of bacteria needed for immune health. Antibiotics will deplete both bad and good bacteria in the gut so after a course it is worth taking probiotics for at least three months to help repopulate the strains of good bacteria that strengthen your immune system.
4. Address any nutritional deficiencies
This can be done with the help of a nutritional therapist using a diet diary or laboratory testing. Some vitamin tests are also available from your GP. The most common deficiencies affecting immune health are zinc and vitamin C.
Zinc is involved in the growth and development of your child’s white blood cells, which help to fight infection. It also helps with healing, brain, teeth and bone development, is essential for energy production and used in the metabolism of essential fatty acids, which also play a key role in the overall health of your child. Deficiency signs are poor sense of taste and smell, white marks on the finger nails, stretch marks, frequent infections, acne or greasy skin, loss of appetite (to name but a few!)
The best food sources of zinc are fresh ginger root, lamb, pecans, green peas, brazil nuts, egg yolks, rye, oats, peanuts and almonds. Supplement ranges vary between 5mg and 20mg so it is best to talk your GP or nutritional therapist to work out the correct amount for your child as every one has different needs.
Vitamin C is a powerful anti-oxidant that fights free radials, which cause harm to the cells in our body. It is also antibacterial, antimicrobial and a natural antihistamine helping with inflammation and allergies.
Other nutrients important for immune function are folic acid, B12, B6, iron, vitamin D, vitamin E, magnesium and selenium.
5. Daily movement and fresh air
Moving the body helps to lower the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which suppresses the immune system function. By exercising we increase our body temperature and increase the move