Back to School at Last!

This last year has been totally unprecedented in so many ways, including the amount of time our children have spent at home. With the long anticipated return to school upon us, you might be wondering what you can do to support your child’s immune system.

Our immune systems are designed to protect us from unseen pathogens.  This constant defense relies on an optimal supply of specific nutrients in addition to adequate sleep, exercise, and stress management.

Stress

Children react to stressors in just the same way as we do i.e., by producing the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol.

If these two hormones are raised over long periods of time, the immune system can suffer.  Our stress response was designed as a short term response to an immediate threat such as a predator (fight or flight response).  Modern life, however, tends to leave us more chronically stressed for longer periods.  Unfortunately, excessive stress in children can be especially harmful as many stress regulatory systems, such as the brain and nervous systems, are still developing.

Supporting Stress Management Through Diet and Nutrition

Food choices can also directly affect the levels of stress your child’s body perceives.  For example, eating an excess of sugar leads to inflammation in the body in several ways.  The resultant Inflammation is perceived as a type of stress and therefore stimulates the production of cortisol.

In addition, stress has a direct impact on the way we use up nutrients from food. Under stress, cellular metabolism increases and demand for nutrients increases.  Therefore, a healthy diet and good nutrition is vital.  Of particular importance are optimal amounts of B vitamins, vitamin C and magnesium.

Magnesium rich foods include seeds like pumpkin and sunflower seeds, fish, leafy green vegetables, avocado, nuts, brown rice, wholegrains, fish and meat.  Many of these foods may not be your child’s favourite (!), but there are lots of ways of making them more interesting.  Roasting pumpkin seeds with spices or maple syrup as a snack for example and mixing your brown rice with white.

Vitamin C is found in large amounts in fruit and vegetables including citrus fruits, berries, spinach, cabbage, and other leafy greens. Try including some fruit for breakfast, salad at lunch and vegetables with dinner to hit that elusive 5-a-Day!

Good sources of adrenal supportive B vitamins include fish, chicken, eggs, tofu, beef, sweet potatoes, and avocados.

Also, bear in mind that stress can negatively affect blood sugar levels, so try to include plenty of protein and healthy fats in the diet to help to keep these stable.  Good examples of healthy fats being avocado, nuts and seeds, olive oil and rapeseed oil drizzled on veg and salads, oily fish – tinned sardines in tomato sauce mashed up on toast are highly nutritious containing more calcium than milk plus essential fatty acids, vitamins D and A.

Gut Health

Sugar has many negative effects on the body.  Too much dietary sugar feeds the bad bacteria in the gut, further promoting inflammation and immune dysfunction.

Dietary fibre on the other hand, is your number 1 gut hero.  Fibre from vegetables, fruits, nuts, wholegrains, and seeds is converted into short-chain fatty acids by beneficial bacteria in the gut.  These short chain fatty acids are hugely beneficial for health.

As diets high in sugar and refined carbohydrates are often lacking in fibre it’s easy to see how a vicious circle of poor gut health, inflammation, stress and compromised immune response can occur.  Luckily, the gut microbiome is particularly malleable in childhood – so it’s never too late to make some positive dietary changes.  Even a small change like swapping white bread for wholegrain can make a difference over time.  And considering over 70% of our immune system resides in the gut, it’s worth making an effort to increase your family’s fibre intake and boost gut health.

Some foods that are especially beneficial at feeding good gut bacteria include, Jerusalem artichoke (roast them like potatoes), asparagus, bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, fennel, cauliflower and broccoli.

Fermented foods like kefir and yoghurt can also help to increase the beneficial bacteria in the gut.

Sleep

Generally, kids are pretty good at getting the sleep they need.  However, if you find that your child seems more ‘wired’ than tired, and you’ve followed all the established ‘sleep hygiene’ routines, perhaps consider looking at boosting dietary sources of the mineral magnesium.

Magnesium has been referred to as natures ‘tranquiliser’. It can help with relaxation as it activates the parasympathetic nervous system and regulates melatonin.  Levels of magnesium in soil and plant foods has been found to be declining – consequently many of us may not be getting optimal amounts from our diet. Boost sources of magnesium rich foods such as nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables.

If you’d like an assessment of yours or your family’s diet, please get in touch.  Dietary analysis and personalised recommendations from £65.

Roz Witney

Author Roz Witney

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