Long before the summer comes to a screeching halt, a new season is already in full swing. The back-to-school bug season!
With the onset of cold weather and stale germ-ridden indoor air, sniffles, cough, and fever can quickly become a child’s regular company. That, and the occasional sound of puke puddles in the making. The sound NO parent wants to hear at 2:00 a.m. (Or ever.)
You may have been asking yourself for a while:
- Why is my child always sick with fever?
- Why is my child always sick with a cold?
- Are my kids getting sick too often?
If you’re sick and tired of your kids being CONSTANTLY sick, I have great news.
Keeping kids healthy might be easier than you think!
(And no, it doesn’t require getting the flu shot.)
12 simple (but effective!) tips to help keep kids healthy:
Or as I’d like to say, “You are what you eat.”
I know this probably sounds way too simple to be effective, but what your child eats (or doesn’t eat) reflects directly into the way his or her body responds to germs. The goal is making your child’s body nutritionally strong enough to fight off pathogens it regularly comes in contact with.
Make no mistake, I’m not talking about Flintstone chewables.
Look, I realize that serving your kids nutrition on a plate instead of in a supplement form is easier said than done. For one thing, our lives are super busy. Ain’t nobody got time to work full time and cook every day! Plus, kids are picky eaters which definitely doesn’t motivate.
But the point is, real food is nutritious, and it is a VITAL key for keeping your child’s immune system at its peak performance. In fact, I’d say this is the most important tip in how to keep kids healthy (and happy).
Food can work with us, or against us.
It’s that simple.
Diets that are high in processed, poorly-sourced, and nutritionally-void foods not only don’t fuel a growing child’s body with much needed nutrition, they have the potential to increase inflammation in the body and can severely depress your child’s immunity.
If your kids are always sick, cut back on INFLAMMATORY foods:
- refined sugar and artificial sweeteners;
- artificial flavors and synthetic dyes;
- refined white flour and grains;
- the wrong types of oils (canola, soybean, corn, cottonseed, safflower, margarine, butter substitutes);
- legumes that haven’t been properly soaked;
- conventional/grain-fed meats and processed meats (hot dogs, sausage, bacon, lunch meats);
- farmed fish (tilapia is popular but not a healthy choice) with the exception of rainbow trout.
Add more nutrient-dense WHOLE foods into your child’s diet:
- fresh fruits and vegetables, preferably organic (and ideally seasonal – I know, I know…);
- healthy fats (real butter from grass-fed cows, extra virgin olive oil, or pure unrefined coconut oil are just a few examples);
- properly prepared grains (sourdough fermentation, sprouted grains);
- properly soaked legumes and nuts;
- eggs from healthy free-range birds;
- full-fat dairy products ideally made from grass-fed organic milk;
- wild-caught fish (Alaskan salmon or Pacific cod, chunk light tuna – once in a while only) or farmed rainbow trout, and meat from grass-fed, pasture-raised animals (if your family consumes meat).
The integral part of healthy nutrition is sourcing carefully and reading – not skimming – labels. Yes, it’s time consuming, but it’s something that needs to be done diligently in the world of wealth over health. Unfortunately.
Sounds too ordinary and simple??? Well, it is!
Not only do virtually all of our cells, tissues and organs require water to keep functioning properly, water also helps remove toxins and pathogens from the body.
With every cup of sweetened drink, fruit/vegetable juice wannabe or a can of soda replaced with PLAIN water, you’re essentially making your child’s body nutritionally stronger.
YES, tap water is largely contaminated with pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and other questionable chemicals these days, but NO, bottled isn’t necessarily better not only because of the same purity concerns but also due to added toxic exposure from the plastic the water has been stored in (plus there is always the huge dark cloud of plastic overuse).
Tap water can be filtered to various degrees of purity depending on which filter is used, but even if you don’t use a water filter, my humble opinion is that tap water is still the better choice over a sugary drink (which has most likely been made with water of the same/similar quality). (That said, water contamination is a real and growing concern that deserves our attention.)
#3 VITAMIN C
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that’s vital for maintaining a robust immune system. In addition, vitamin C helps protect kids from the effects of environmental pollution that they’re regularly exposed to.
Ideally, the majority of vitamin C should be sourced from the foods kids eat. But if you feel like your kids have been slacking with their fruit/vegetable intake and they get sick a lot, vitamin C supplements are on your side.
You knew there was going to be a BUT somewhere, right?
I’m going to make this a tad more complicated before it gets easier. (It does get easier. Promise!)
Imagine a bicycle and think of ascorbic acid as if it were the pedals. They’re part of the bike, sure, but how far will you get by isolating and using only the pedals?
I won’t be getting into the topic of synthetic vs. natural form of ascorbic acid in this article. In a nutshell, you may have heard that the vast majority of ascorbic acid available on the market is derived from genetically modified corn, right? That would be true. You may have also heard that both synthetic and natural form of ascorbic acid are really the same thing. Which is also true.
However, even though food-derived and synthetic ascorbic acid ARE chemically identical, fruits and vegetables are rich in micronutrients and phytochemicals (like bioflavonoids) which all play a role in affecting vitamin C bioavailability.
So I’d like to play it safe and recommend – against the mainstream web of misconduct – to either purchase vitamin C sourced from whole foods (like this vitamin C spray or this vitamin C powder) OR at least getting a formula that contains a synergistic blend of ascorbic acid and bioflavonoids to stay as close to nature as possible – my kids like these vitamin C / ascorbic acid chewables (mainly the blueberry/raspberry/boysenberry flavor) and I like that they’re hard chewables as opposed to soft gummies – I wonder if they’re a little better for dental health? IDK).
#4 ELDERBERRY SYRUP
Elderberry concoctions of all sorts have been used to treat all kinds of ailments from head to toe for centuries (and to ward of all evil – but we’ll leave that for another time). Rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, the elderberry has a lot to offer in terms of health benefits, including disease prevention and treatment.
We don’t use elderberry syrup regularly, but we usually keep it around. Store-bought elderberry syrup can be pricey, but you can make your own in 1-2-3 for much less.
There is a whole world of bacteria present in the human gut, and it influences much more than just digestive health.
Many people don’t realize that the majority of our immune system actually lies in the gastrointestinal tract. Healthy gut bacteria is therefore crucial for a well-functioning immune system!
In order to promote healthy gut flora in your child and to prevent bad bacteria from outnumbering the good guys, you’ll need to:
- Cut back on sugar which ultimately compromises the gut;
- Either serve fermented/cultured foods or drinks like:
- (quality) yoghurt;
- dairy or water kefir;
- lacto-fermented fruits/vegetables; OR
3. Give a probiotic supplement.
While store-bought probiotic supplements typically supply the body with billions of bacteria in each dose (it can be much less though despite of what the label says), cultured foods are far more effective and capable of providing trillions of beneficial bacteria in just one serving.
Our kids get homemade kefir fairly regularly (though not every day by any means) but we still keep probiotics around the house which they occasionally take. We like using these probiotics for our kids – but they’re not shelf-stable, so they should be either shipped with a cold pack or bought in person rather than online.
Yes, garlic IS pungent! But not only is garlic great for keeping the vampires away, it has antiviral, antibiotic, and antifungal properties to boot!
In short, it’s an incredibly powerful immune booster.
Ideally, garlic should be eaten RAW to reap all benefits.
If you’re not sure how your kids would react to a garlic toast with grass-fed butter and pink salt – YUM! (my kids are a no-go), you can sneak some garlic into a salad dressing (homemade Caesar, anyone?) and experiment by adding just a bit of crushed garlic to suitable family meals and taking it from there. Remember, every little bit helps.
If incorporating raw garlic scares you, however, no worries…
Cooked garlic isn’t as beneficial as raw because heat destroys much of the enzyme allowing for the formation of allicin (the key phytonutrient), but COOKED garlic can still offer some levels of antibiotic properties IF prepared the right way.
The next time you decide to add garlic to your soup, meal, or the sauce you’ve been cooking (or heating up), keep in mind that garlic should be chopped or crushed about 10 minutes before cooking to maximize allicin formation. Also, try to add garlic to the dish towards the end of cooking.
You can use a variety of spices to help keep your kids healthy. For example, cinnamon, ginger, or turmeric are good immune stimulators that are loaded with antioxidants (the good stuff).
A dash of cinnamon (+ brown sugar, salt, butter, and raw cacao powder) in a bowl of hot oatmeal, (fresh) ginger tea with lemon and honey, fresh grated turmeric in a meal, use your imagination. You can’t go wrong. (Running out of ideas? Spices can be added to smoothies as well!)
#8 RAW HONEY
Or, I’ll be the honey nerd – REALLY RAW.
Obviously, not just any honey.
The majority of store-bought honey isn’t raw. And, in some cases, it’s not even real honey (crazy, I know).
What is raw honey, anyway?
Raw honey is basically honey in its natural (unprocessed) state that retains its full nutritional value. When I say unprocessed, I mean the honey has been likely strained to remove impurities but hasn’t been over-filtered and pasteurized (heated over high temperatures) which rids the honey of valuable enzymes, antioxidants, and other vital nutrients.
What are the benefits of raw honey?
Raw honey can literally supercharge your child’s immune system. It has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties and contains varying concentrations of polyphenols which are powerful antioxidants. (Just don’t add honey to anything hot which ultimately kills all the goodness.)
As a general rule, the darker the honey, the higher the phenolic and flavonoid content and antioxidant capacity (and the more intense flavor as well – which not everybody appreciates).
WARNING: Never give honey to children under 1 year of age as it can cause botulism which may be fatal for infants.
Sleep deprivation impairs the immune system, so adequate sleep is just as important as proper nutrition. (Says the person editing this article at 1:26 a.m.)
The truth is, lack of sleep can increase inflammation in the body. It may also negatively affect the good bacteria in the gut that we talked about earlier, making your child more susceptible to infection. If you want to help keep your kids healthy, make sure they get enough sleep.
I’d also think twice about using a night light in a child’s room because artificial light can disrupt the sleep pattern by suppressing the body’s production of melatonin. The commonly used LED and CFL bulbs are especially problematic as they emit blue light and affect melatonin more than any other light.
Never ignore the influence of stress on a child’s immune system.
Kids can get stressed out, too.
School is a very competitive environment not only because of tests and grades but also due to peer pressure. Kids are also trying hard to make the team, nail the recital, score that trophy, or to impress you in other ways. Then there is puberty, of course.
Stress is another contributor to unbalanced gut flora and can compromise a child’s immune system.
My advice? Be sure to talk to your kids regularly and address issues immediately.
Regular exercise is critical for a well-functioning immune system.
Movement increases blood flow which improves the circulation of immune cells. The better the cells circulate, the more efficient the immune system is at locating and targeting foreign pathogens. Make ’em run!
#12 TRIED-AND-TRUE SIMPLE HYGIENE MEASURES
It’s the really basic stuff that our own parents had once recited over and over again…
- Keeping hands away from face (easier said than done but worth repeating nonetheless).
- Covering face with the crook of one’s elbow when sneezing.
Well, that’s pretty much it.
That’s what we do to keep our kids healthy and what works for us.
Oh yeah, one more thing…
You may have noticed that there is something missing on this list. Something you’re probably used to seeing a lot, especially if you live in the Northern Hemisphere.
That’s right: Vitamin D.
Vitamin D is an effective antimicrobial agent that plays an important role in a healthy immune system.
You can get vitamin D from sunlight exposure (less the sunscreen of course), from foods containing vitamin D (eggs, cheese, some mushrooms, fatty fish), from vitamin D-fortified foods, or from various food supplements.
Our kids generally don’t get a vitamin D supplement – if I’m not counting the fish oil my husband sometimes volunteers to serve (I can’t do fish oil. I tried.)
The reason I don’t give my kids vitamin D is that very little is known about the effects of synthetic vitamin D, plus I have yet to thoroughly research the actual purity of commercial fish oils (the info out there is contradictory on all fronts). The kids spend a lot of time outside during the warm months and eat plenty of foods rich in vitamin D plus the occasional fish oil; it has to be OK in terms of vitamin D for now, and that’s that.
If you want to give your child a vitamin D supplement:
- I’d recommend a natural source like cod liver oil over cholecalciferol, a synthetic D3 (for all the unknowns and question marks – there are plenty).
- Consider giving vitamin K2 along with vitamin D. D enhances the absorption of calcium, and K2 helps with distribution to the right places in the body (like bones and teeth).
- Vitamin D temporarily pauses the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. I wouldn’t give any supplement containing vitamin D before or close to bedtime, because doing so can disrupt your child’s sleep.
These are my tips for helping keep kids healthy during the flu season (and beyond).
If your kids are sick often, try some of them! The more, the better!
Disclaimer: This article is based on my personal experiences and research and should not be used in place of medical advice. Consult your healthcare provider before making any medical decisions.