Building Your Child's Immunity

An enthusiastic Real Food Advocate & Educator with a propensity for nutrient dense food, I am a self-described “clean (eating) freak”. Why? Because what we eat is the biggest factor that contributes to good health: it starts with food! Fresh, unprocessed, quality, real food, which by default is nutrient dense.

We are all exposed to germs every day. A strong immune system will help us to fight off most of the germs that come our way, and therefore we will be less likely to get sick. But when we do catch the occasional cold, it will be mild and we will get better relatively quickly.

Some major factors that contribute to a strong immune system are: good sleep, low stress, not fearing dirt, exposure to midday sun (in the summer), supplements or natural remedies as needed /as necessary, and, of course, real food.

Food is so important to having great health.

When I teach classes on boosting immunity, I talk a lot about food. And I get asked “does this help to build immunity?” Yes, it does. A strong immune system is dependent on a healthy, nutrient rich diet. There are lots of supplements and natural immune boosters to choose from in the store (you are welcome to ask me about them because I use those too), but eating nutrient dense food (at least most of the time) is the place to start. (From there you might further refine/eliminate if necessary).

Food nourishes our body. Nutrients from food are necessary for the cells in our bodies to do what they need to do. If our body doesn’t get the vitamins and minerals that it needs, it doesn't work properly. Metabolic processes may slow down or even stop. Immune problems arise because it is easier for bacteria or viruses to take hold when important nutrients are missing.

Good nutrition is essential to developing bodies and keeping the immune system healthy and strong.

Here are some suggestions for supporting a healthy immune system:

1) Eat Real Food. Real food does not need a label, nor does it have a list of ingredients. Real food is an ingredient: vegetables, pastured meats and eggs, wild fish, healthy fats, properly soaked or sprouted grains, lentils and beans, soaked or sprouted raw nuts and seeds…. real food provides nourishment and will energize, strengthen, and heal your body.

2) Eat quality food. Fresh, whole, unprocessed. Quality matters. Organic, pastured, wild, grassfed, chemical free. It makes a difference! Poor quality food sources are lacking in vital nutrients.

3) Eat the right nutrients, ideally from food (as opposed to from supplements). Know what the essential nutrients are, and learn the most bioavailable foods sources. Some essential nutrients are: Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin A, Vitamin K2, Vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium, iron, selenium, essential fatty acids. Get your levels checked if you need to. If you are unsure, please ask me

4) If using supplements, use whole food supplements. You can always find them at the health food store. If you're not sure, ask someone who works there. Synthetic vitamins contain chemicals and additives; which are not health promoting! They were originally developed because they cost less. Whole food-based supplements are derived directly from foods; they are better absorbed by the body than synthetic vitamins and they are more likely to provide the necessary nutrients, as the body can better recognize them. 

5) Significantly reduce or eliminate sugar. Sugar has been referred to as the single worst ingredient in the modern diet. It wreaks havoc on our bodies and contributes to suppressing the immune system: It promotes inflammation, feeds harmful bacteria and yeasts in the gut, and it feeds the pathogens that cause illness. (This means that you might reconsider the fruit juice, popsicles or ginger ale when sick!)

6) Significantly reduce or eliminate junk food and processed food. Really, it's best to completely eliminate it. Packaged and processed “foods” are not food, but chemicals and empty calories with no nutrient value that do damage to the body. There is no reason to eat them when we can be eating something nourishing. Our bodies do not recognize processed "food" because it's not food. And so it's not treated like food. Instead the body detects foreign invaders and sends antibodies to attack. If the body is constantly producing antibodies to fight against these "foreign things", the immune system will weaken. No manufactured, “enriched”, or flavoured food can do for us what Real Food does. Our bodies need the nutrients from real food to properly function. You wouldn’t put fruit juice into your car’s gas tank!

7) Eat fermented foods as often as you can, and ideally with every meal. You've likely heard that 80% of our immune system resides in the gut. Probiotics are the healthy bacteria in our gut that prevent the “bad” bacteria from taking over. When you have poor gut flora (the complex community of microorganisms living in the digestive tract), there is more opportunity for illnesses to take hold.  Probiotics play a key role in regulating both our intestinal immune system and our internal immune system. Antibiotics are the opposite of probiotics. Antibiotic use is often a typical part of many infant and child’s early life, and destroys the probiotics leaving one more susceptible to illnesses and intestinal problems. (So if you are taking antibiotics, you are compromising your gut. It is strongly recommended to take probiotics a few hours later throughout the course, and to continue for at least several weeks following.)

Fermented foods are not only full of good bacteria (probiotics) but also full of vitamins, and enzymes that assist our bodies in digesting the food being eaten together with them. Cultures around the world have been eating fermented foods for years.

Some fermented foods are: yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, pickles and sauerkraut. Making your own fermented foods at home is easy and is best for optimal preservation of nutrients and beneficial bacteria, as well as for their immune supporting and digestion enhancing properties. The store-bought versions are better than not eating them at all, but generally have less probiotic activity than if it's homemade. If you'd like to learn how to ferment anything at home, please ask me

If you are not eating fermented foods on a regular basis, it's probably a good idea to take a good probiotic supplement every day.

8) Prepare your food properly in order to maximize nutrient value. For example, lightly steam your broccoli because overcooking your food results in nutrient depletion.  Soak grains prior to cooking in order to reduce enzyme inhibitors and to make them more easily digestible. If you are unsure about proper preparation to maximize nutrients, please ask me

9) Be aware of interactions and use this knowledge to maximize nutrient intake. For example: calcium inhibits the absorption of iron, and vitamin C enhances it. So someone who is deficient in iron would benefit from eating iron rich foods with vitamin C rich foods (not with calcium rich food).  This means that they might eat their (grassfed) hamburger with red peppers (a source of vitamin C), not with cheese (a source of calcium)!

Another example: grains, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds are high phytic acid, which is an anti-nutrient that binds to minerals in the body (including iron, calcium, etc.). So if your children are eating a lot of these, they might not be absorbing a lot of nutrients that the body needs because the phytic acid is binding to them and they are being eliminated.

One way to break through the phytic acid barrier is to eat these phytic acid rich foods with vitamin C rich foods such as red peppers, grapes, or tomatoes. Another way is to “prepare” these foods by soaking and/or sprouting (prior to cooking), which is said to reduce a lot of the phytic acid and also increases digestibility. This is not new stuff: traditional cultures instinctively knew to soak their grains, etc. in order to increase digestibility. These practices got lost and forgotten about in our modern world. (If this is new to you and you would like to learn more, please ask me about it). 

Another example: Calcium bioavailability from plant foods (eg. leafy greens) can be affected by their levels of oxalate (oxalic acid). Oxalic acid is a built-in survival mechanism to protect the plant (spinach, kale, etc) from predation by animals, insects, and fungi (so that the predators can eat some, but not all of it; animals that eat too much of will not survive unless they have well-developed oxalic acid detoxifying systems). In our bodies oxalic acid binds with the calcium to form calcium oxalate (oxalic acid crystals) - an insoluble salt.  This not only inhibits the calcium absorption by the body but can also cause other problems such as gout, kidney stones….  So for example, raw spinach is often eaten as a source of calcium, but it is high in oxalic acid which would bind to the calcium and other minerals so that the body doesn’t absorb them. You think you're doing your body good, but you may not be getting the nutrients you think you're getting. 

Some people will be more sensitive to the oxalates than others. Those with a compromised gut should especially be aware of this. Also note that this oxalate issue is more with long-term consumption of these foods in their raw form, leading to nutrient deficiencies. We do have gut flora that degrades oxalates, but if you're having raw spinach smoothies every day, it could be too much to handle. Time to rethink the daily spinach smoothie; there is no reason to burden your body with oxalic acid. Also know that many antibiotics can kill the flora that degrades oxalate; another reason to eat probiotic rich foods with meals!

In order to reduce the oxalic acid in spinach (and other leafy greens), you can lightly boil it (or steam it, sautee it, etc) and drain it. Cooking vegetables also helps to break down the cellular structures to increase their digestibility and nutrient absorption. 

It is also important to know that many vitamins and micronutrients in vegetables are fat-soluble; meaning you need to eat fat with them in order for the nutrients to be absorbed by the body. Those who consume salad with fat-free salad dressing will absorb less of the helpful phytonutrients and vitamins than those who eat their salads with salad dressing containing fat. A fat-free salad (or smoothie!) means that you are actually starving your body of nutrients because they aren't being properly absorbed! Add fat to your vegetables to optimize the absorption of vitamins. Steamed broccoli with grassfed butter..... mmmm!

There are lots of other things to know, like that goitrogenic foods disrupt thyroid function... cook those cruciferous vegetables in order to reduce the amount of goitrogens you let in your body!

Eating healthy shouldn't be time consuming, costly or confusing. Eat real, properly prepared food. It’s an important key to good health and will supply you with the essential nutrients the body needs for a healthy immune system.

If you are having trouble with “discerning” eaters, or are “time challenged” in terms of preparing meals, if you are interested to learn more about food interactions and maximizing nutrients, or if you have any questions, please contact me. I'll be happy to answer your questions. 

Despite our best intentions and efforts, sometimes we do get sick. There are many different natural remedy options that are safe and can help reverse it before it gets worse, or prevent a serious "blow up", help it to remain mild, or help you to recover quicker. Watch for an upcoming blog post, or please contact me. I know plenty of natural remedies that work (because I use them!) and I'm happy to share them with you.