Good food, good health

How can food help keep kids health? Tiffany Brown investigates evidence-based nutrition recommendations you can incorporate into your child's diet.

Is it possible to keep your children healthy or heal them when they are sick through nutrition alone? Research gives mixed evidence, but more and more parents seem to be adopting a “let food be thy medicine” doctrine when it comes to caring for their little ones. Here are some evidence-based sources of nutrition you may like to incorporate in support of a natural approach to family healthcare.

Vitamin C

Nobel prize winner Linus Pauling first suggested vitamin C may be a cure for the common cold in the early 1970s, and plenty of research has been conducted since, concluding that while the nutrient does not appear to prevent a cold, it can certainly reduce both severity and duration of the illness once it takes hold. The relevant studies were mainly concerned with supplemental vitamin C, which is highly recommended for children recovering from illness. But there is a school of thought that naturally derived sources of nutrients are preferable to supplements. The recommended daily intake for babies and young children is between 35mg and 40mg of vitamin C per day. This could come from red capsicum (240mg per fruit), grapefruit (94mg), kiwifruit (85mg), 10 strawberries (50mg), an orange (46mg), boiled kumara (30mg), a tomato (30mg), or a cup of silverbeet (27mg). Vitamin C is an antioxidant which is highly concentrated in immune cells and depletes rapidly in the presence of infection. A deficiency of vitamin C significantly weakens the immune system and increases the risk of infection.

Flavonoids

As well as rich sources of vitamins, minerals, and fibre to support the immune system, red, blue, and purple-coloured fruits like strawberries, cranberries, blueberries, blackberries, and pomegranates contain anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid with anti- inflammatory, antiviral, and immune-boosting properties. Anthocyanins have been shown to inhibit common viruses and bacteria from attaching to cells, as well as stimulating immune response. Kids love these sweet fruits, which can be frozen for use during the colder months (or bought frozen), and make a great addition to smoothies, baking, breakfast, or desserts.

As well as rich sources of vitamins, minerals, and fibre to support the immune system, red, blue, and purple-coloured fruits like strawberries, cranberries, blueberries, blackberries, and pomegranates contain anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid with anti- inflammatory, antiviral, and immune-boosting properties. Anthocyanins have been shown to inhibit common viruses and bacteria from attaching to cells, as well as stimulating immune response. Kids love these sweet fruits, which can be frozen for use during the colder months (or bought frozen), and make a great addition to smoothies, baking, breakfast, or desserts.

Garlic

An anti-fungal, antiviral, antibacterial herb that’s been used as medicine for centuries, studies show faster recovery and fewer incidences of colds among garlic-takers. Reckon you won’t be able to get your kids to eat garlic? Try enriching sauces, casseroles, and soups with the delicious herb. Roasting garlic tames its stringent flavour, and it pairs beautifully with cheese (pizza, anyone?). Add to macaroni cheese, pasta and, of course, that perennial favourite, garlic bread.

Chicken soup and broths

It’s official. Mothers everywhere through the ages have been right: Chicken soup can help you recover more quickly when you’re sick. An easy- to-eat source of vitamins, minerals, calories, and protein, chicken soup provides a depleted body with the extra nutrition it needs during illness, as well as hydration from fluids and electrolytes. Chicken contains the amino acid cysteine, which has anti- viral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Hot steam from soups and broths can also have a decongestant effect and help to clear blocked or stuffy noses. Add garlic to boost the immunity benefits even more.

Probiotics

Studies show children and adults alike who take probiotics get fewer colds, heal faster, and take fewer antibiotics than those who don’t. Probiotics include yoghurt and fermented foods like sauerkraut and kefir. They may reduce inflammation, boost immune function, and improve skin health, and are also available in supplement form. Yoghurt is rich in calcium and other vitamins and minerals, making it a great choice for kids.

Antioxidants

Produced by the body and present in food, antioxidants are compounds that protect the body from potentially harmful free radicals. An accumulation of free radicals can cause oxidative stress, which can in turn damage DNA and cell structure. Antioxidants neutralise free radicals, so incorporating more of them into your family’s diet makes good sense. Dark chocolate, pecan nuts, blueberries, strawberries, artichokes, goji berries, raspberries, kale, red cabbage, beans, beetroot, and spinach are some of the foods highest in antioxidants. Fussy kids often enjoy green leafy vegetables disguised in fruit smoothies, and beetroot is a wonderful ingredient in sweet baking. Try making a simple sauerkraut of red cabbage at home; the only ingredients required are cabbage and salt, and kids often prefer the tangy flavour of fermented vegetables over fresh. Teaching children about nutrition is an important component, and if you’re able to have them help grow food in a garden or in pots, they’ll feel more involved. Supporting health naturally is a life ambition rather than a quick fix, so helping children to understand the relationship between what they eat and how they feel is vital to success. As well as food, drinks, or supplementation, a natural approach to your family’s health should incorporate all elements of a balanced life, including fresh air, exercise, meditation or mindfulness, and nurturing of spirit, alongside the idea that our health can be fostered and improved by the choice and quality of the food we eat.

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