By Lindsay Christensen
Nutritionist @ The Pratt Clinics
In Part 1 of this series, I discussed how you can prepare your kids for a healthy new school year by creating structured mealtimes, preparing balanced meals, and ensuring adequate hydration. In Part 2, I’d like to focus on foods and nutrients that support a robust immune system, physical activity, and sleep. Attention to these three factors will help keep your child healthy throughout the school year.
Supporting your child’s immune system nutritionally before and throughout the school year can help keep them active and healthy even when the annual flu bug begins to make the rounds. Vitamins A, D, and C and probiotics play significant roles in supporting immunity.
Vitamin A activates immune cells that kill pathogens, such as the flu bug. Pre-formed vitamin A is found only in animal foods, including egg yolks, pastured dairy products, beef liver, and wild salmon. Carotenoids, on the other hand, are precursors of vitamin A that occur in yellow and orange plant foods such as carrots, peppers, pumpkin, and squash. While great sources of antioxidants, these foods do not contain immune system-supportive vitamin A. Rather, carotenoids must be processed by the body into vitamin A. The efficiency of this conversion varies widely across populations and is inefficient in many people, so make sure your child has a good source of animal-based vitamin A in their diet in addition to eating carotenoid-rich foods.
Vitamin D, “the sunshine vitamin,” is made by the skin when it is exposed to UV rays from sunlight. Vitamin D activates immune cells and reduces the risk of colds and flu, making it a crucial nutrient for supporting your child’s immunity. (1) Unfortunately, outdoors time is often limited for children during the school week, resulting in a suboptimal level of sun exposure. How can you help your child get enough vitamin D? Part of the solution is to encourage your kids to spend as much time outside as possible after school and on the weekends. Also, consider supplementing your child’s diet with a high-quality vitamin D, such as Klaire Labs Micellized Vitamin D3 or Nordic Naturals Vitamin D3 Kids Gummies.
Like vitamin A, vitamin C helps activate immune system cells. It is also a potent antioxidant. Vitamin C is found in a wide variety of fresh fruits that children enjoy, including strawberries, oranges, guava, and papaya. It is also found in vegetables such as broccoli, kale, and bell peppers.
Research indicates that 70 percent of the human immune system resides in the gastrointestinal tract. (2) The maintenance of a healthy gut is essential for building a robust immune system, which your children require to stay healthy throughout the school year. To support your child’s gut health, consider supplementing with a daily probiotic such as Klaire Labs Ther-Biotic or Renew Life Ultimate Flora Kids Probiotic. Fermented foods also supply the gut with beneficial bacteria and prebiotic fibers, found in bananas, onions, garlic, artichokes, and oats, support the growth of these bacteria. Finally, avoid ingredients that harm the gut microbiota, such as artificial sweeteners, refined carbohydrates, and processed seed oils from canola and soybeans.
Physical activity is a “nutrient” that is just as important to your child’s health as the nutrients found in food! Exercise and movement should be a part of every child’s day; unfortunately, the sedentary school environment doesn’t provide children with much time for exercise and play. To make up for this, encourage your kids to get outside, explore, and move their bodies!
Just as movement is an essential “nutrient” for your child’s health, so is sleep. The school year is a busy time, and adequate rest is often overlooked, especially in our society that prizes constant activity and busyness. If your child is having trouble concentrating or is displaying signs of inattention and fatigue, he may just need more sleep! Here are some tips for optimizing your child’s sleep:
• Provide adequate time for your child to settle down before bed
• Engage in a calming routine right before bed – a hot bath, story time
• Play relaxing music
• Turn off all electronic devices at least an hour before bed to limit exposure to blue light. Blue light disrupts melatonin production (melatonin is a hormone that helps induce sleep), and children are uniquely vulnerable to sleep disruption caused by this type of light. (3)
• Keep your child’s bedroom completely dark; light pollution from streetlamps and blue light from alarm clocks, nightlights, and other sources disrupt melatonin production. Remove digital alarm clocks and night lights from your child’s room and invest in blackout curtains to block outside light, if necessary.
The start of a new school year is an exciting time full of potential for your children. By making nutrition, hydration, movement, and sleep a key part of your back-to-school strategy, you can help your children thrive physically, academically, and socially throughout the upcoming school year! If you have any questions, or would like futher assistance please contact us.