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SMMC Ed Series: Essential Nutrients for Your Kids’ Immunity

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By: Argavan Nilforoush, RDN   |   January 27, 2022

We are well into the new year and as people travel more, have indoor gatherings with multiple households, and fall out their routine of eating and sleeping well, the immune system will be working overtime.

We know eating healthy food is good for the immune system, but what does that really mean?

A healthy diet provides essential nutrients to help strengthen your immune system to fight off pathogens. In your gut, there live trillions of microorganisms mainly comprised of bacteria, fungi and other microbes that are involved in functions critical to your health and well-being. If you don’t have a healthy microbiome, then you will likely get sick often due to underlying chronic inflammation that weakens your immune system.

While there are factors that were beyond our control when we were young and our microbiome was first being developed (for example, in-utero exposure to nutrition and toxins, mode of delivery at birth and source of nutrition the first year of life), there are things we can do now for ourselves and our children to help the beneficial bacteria proliferate.

Here are some important nutrients and their rich food sources:

Vitamin D: fatty fish (wild salmon, halibut, cod), eggs, mushrooms, fortified milk, yogurt, cereal, yeast. 
Also, aim for 10-15 minutes of direct sun exposure a few times a week.

Magnesium: beef, chicken, seaweed, almonds, seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, flax), beans

Zinc: shellfish (oysters, crab, lobster), meat (beef, turkey, pork, chicken), beans, whole grains, cashews

Vitamin C: citrus fruits, sweet potato, red peppers, berries, melons, papaya, guava, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables

Omega 3 Fats: cold water fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines), seeds (pumpkin, sesame, chia, flax), nuts (walnuts, almond, pecan, macadamia), extra virgin olive oil, seaweed, seeds (hemp, chia, flax)

Best cooking oils: ghee, avocado oil, olive oil (low heat), coconut oil

Some helpful tips for families:

1) Limit processed snacks at home- if it’s accessible, the willpower is challenged!
2) Cook at home as much as possible- you’re in control of ingredients, dishes and cooking methods 
3) Drink lots of filtered water! To encourage drinking, get a straw water bottle and keep refilling as the day goes on.
4) Pay attention to food labels- aim for five ingredients or less. If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.
5) Try to include fruit and vegetables at every meal- even if your child takes one bite, that’s a win. Remember healthy and happy eaters happen over time. Be patient and practice compassion.
6) Don’t offer sugary beverages at home- water for hydration only.
7) Prioritize adequate sleep and regular bowel movements. Poop and sleep are your body’s way of detoxing.
8) Incorporate feel-good activities every day- meditation, exercise, nature walks, family mealtimes, non-screen activities (puzzles, board games, cooking, reading)

Change is hard, so start slow—baby steps! Remember that habits don’t change overnight or during one season. It takes time, but it’s worth it. Have a healthy, safe and memorable holiday season!

For more information on topics that matter to families, such as picky eating and how nutrition affects behavior, check out my solo episode as well as interviews with expert guests on my Baby Steps Nutrition Podcast (found on Apple Podcasts). Please don’t forget to subscribe and leave a rating and review so we can find more families like you.

For more on Argavan Nilforoush, be sure to follow her on Instagram @babystepsnutrition, on her Facebook page: Baby Steps Nutrition Podcast, on Twitter @argavanRDN, on LinkedIn @ArgavanNilforoush and through her website

Argavan Nilforoush is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with over 13 years of experience working with families, infants, toddlers, older children and teens in inpatient and outpatient settings. She re-launched her private practice in August 2021. Baby Steps Nutrition offers individualized nutrition consulting and counseling services to children ages birth-21 years with a variety of medical conditions and health issues/concerns. 
Argavan also hosts the Baby Steps Nutrition Podcast, which can be found on Apple Podcasts. She covers a variety of topics related to nutrition and, health and wellness, which impacts children of all ages and stages. Each episode features insightful conversations with experts who offer tips, tricks, and resources to empower families to make positive changes every day that have a lasting impact.

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