Want to help your kids fight off the phlegmy coughs and runny noses that are starting to spread around schools like wildfire? Practising good hygiene and getting sufficient sleep and exercise are super-important, but boosting your children’s immune systems plays a huge role in the war against infection. Enter diet, one of the mainstays of good health.
Sadly, life is so fast-paced that we often forget the fresh fruits, vegetables and other foods our kids need to keep healthy year-round. A single orange or apple grabbed on the run will never prevent a cold. A truly healthy immune system depends on a regular balanced diet filled with vitamins and minerals, which include:
1. Vitamin C
Pack a few slices of salad pepper and tomato, a handful of berries and a naartjie to get a punch of this powerful immune system booster. It’s also in cauliflower, broccoli, kale, spinach, kiwi, berries, papaya and other citrus fruits.
2. Vitamin E
Like vitamin C, this superhero anti-oxidant helps your body fight off infection. Easy-to-pack almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts and sunflower seeds are all high in vitamin E. Spinach and broccoli are other sources.
3. Vitamin B6
This important vitamin is critical for immune system function. Go for bananas, lean chicken breast, tuna, baked potatoes and chickpeas (pack some hummus dip for those veggie sticks).
4. Vitamin A
Carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, spanspek (sweet melon) and squash are high in carotenoids, which the body turns into immune system-boosting vitamin A.
5. Vitamin D
Find it in fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines) and fortified foods such as cereals. Many people have a hard time absorbing vitamin D from food, though, so chat to your doctor about supplements.
6. Folate/folic acid
Natural folate (folic acid is the synthetic form) is a water-soluble B vitamin found in beans, peas and leafy green vegetables. Get folic acid in fortified foods (check the labels) such as enriched breads, pastas, rice and other 100 percent whole-grain products.
Iron helps your body carry oxygen to cells, strengthening your immune system. It’s in lean poultry, seafood, beans, broccoli and kale.
Selenium appears to strengthen the immune system. Find it in garlic, broccoli, sardines, tuna, Brazil nuts and barley. Add crushed Brazil nuts, a chopped banana and a drizzle of honey to yoghurt for a tasty post-school snack.
Zinc helps control inflammation and immune system response. Sources for lunchboxes are lean meats and poultry, baked beans (no added sugar!), yoghurt, chickpeas, fortified cereals, seeds and dairy.