Now that we are in the middle of the summer nobody likes to think about days getting colder and shorter, but fall is around the corner and with it the next cold or COVID season.
For someone like me, who clearly prefers the summer months, just the thought of winter and cold gives me the chills! But now is actually the best time to start preparing yourself and your family of course for what is to come inevitably.
So what is your plan? How are you going to prepare your child for the next cold season? Are you planning on putting him on a regiment of vitamins? Are you increasing the amount of superfoods in his diet? Or are you counting on the miraculous supplement for strengthening immune function from Whole Foods your co-worker recommended?
No worries, no judgment here. I totally get it. Like you, I’m a mom and as such, would do ANYTHING to prevent my kid from getting sick.
As parents, we always want to protect our kids no matter what it takes. Even if it means battling against these invisible foes that make our children ill, by any means possible.
But what if despite all the supplements and efforts, your child still ends up getting sick frequently? Wouldn’t you ask yourself if there is any other way to strengthen your child’s immune system? Or anything else you can do?
I asked myself the exact same things a couple of years back. Before I discovered the true connection between immune health and nutrition.
So if you are frustrated with the results you got so far and you are open to a new perspective, then let me share a simple secret that can make a real difference in strengthening your child’s immune health.
A simple hack you can do right now to make your child happier and healthier!
But before we dive right in I would like to cover some basics.
How Does the Immune System Work?
We often hear about the immune system and that it plays an important role in warding off diseases. But how does the immune system really work?
In Western medicine, the immune system is known as a complex and interactive network of organs, cells, and body fluids that gives protective responses against disease-causing microorganisms.
In layman’s terms, the immune system is like a protective shield that guards the body against illnesses. Once a foreign body or germ enters the body, our immune system would create responses to contain, kill or expel it from the body.
For instance, the digestive tract has a network of natural responses to expel microbes that might be entering the body. From the mouth and its saliva, which is by the way full of cells that help neutralize or trap foreign invaders, to the stomach acid and the immune cells found in the intestines - they all help us fight microbes.
These natural responses of the body against the invaders are part of our innate immunity.
The immune system can also remember the characteristics of the foreign entity and create a better and faster response later on.
For example, when you get chicken pox during childhood, your immune system will store the information about the chickenpox virus and create plenty of antibodies against it. So the next time you encounter the same virus, your body has enough defenses to fight it right away. You’ll have minimal symptoms or won’t get sick at all.
This specific response is termed acquired or adaptive immunity.
You see, a well-functioning immune system is essential in maintaining a good state of health. It’s like a protective shield that can guard our children from illnesses.
However, to function accordingly, the immune system also needs support.
Your child’s immune system needs to be “fed” from day one, literally speaking.
How Does Nutrition Affect the Immune System?
Did you know the human gut is not just responsible for smooth digestion? As mentioned earlier, the digestive tract plays a huge role in immunity.
In fact, 70 to 80 percent of our immune cells are located in the gut!
These immune cells interact with the gut microflora or the “good” bacteria that are normally present in the digestive tract. This makes the gut the first line of defense against illnesses.
The gut is where the outside meets the inside.
It is the exact spot where the foreign invaders meet our body’s inner defenses. If the gut is well-balanced, the immune system also works effectively.
So if you want to strengthen your child's immune system, strengthening your child's digestion with the right diet is a great way to do so. It’s like feeding the immune system with the right nutrients to work properly. But most importantly, you need to do this with the RIGHT approach.
Immune Health- The TCM Approach
Now, what’s really interesting is that Traditional Chinese Medicine has a similar principle when it comes to immune health.
In TCM, it is believed that every person has a vital life force, called Qi, that runs through her body. There are different types of Qi. Each of them has an important role in maintaining the person’s overall health.
When it comes to immune health, Wei-Qi and Ying-Qi play the most important role.
A person is said to have natural protection against external pathogens in the form of Wei-Qi or Defense Qi. Wei-Qi is like an energy shield that lies on the outermost layer and surrounds the body to protect it from external factors like microbes trying to enter our body. The Wei-Qi has a strong connection to the lungs and its related organs.
A strong Wei-Qi fights off most of the threats approaching our body but once it gets weak, our body is more vulnerable to disease.
To make sure that the Wei-Qi remains strong, it needs nourishment. That is why it needs support from the Ying-Qi or Nutritive Qi. Ying-Qi can be nourished by eating nutritious foods and having a healthy lifestyle. It is the type of Qi associated with the gut or the digestive tract.
In other words, a healthy diet is an important factor to consider. Not only does it maintain gut health, but it also strengthens the immune defenses as a whole. Diet and immunity are interconnected.
Strengthening Immune Health through Nutrition
If your goal is to strengthen your child’s immune health, I recommend starting her on a diet with high-quality foods rich in nutrients. This way, a well-balanced gut, and healthy body can develop.
In order to do that, here are some things to avoid and include in your child’s diet:
Avoid “fast food”.
Fast foods or processed foods in general are among the worst things that can enter your child’s body. This also includes all food items made out of white flour.
These foods can offer convenience, especially when you’re getting late for work or lacking time to cook meals because you have a baby to attend to. However, instead of giving nourishment, fast foods actually rob your child’s body of the essential nutrients or nutritive Qi that it needs. They are usually filled with chemicals and refined sugar to increase shelf life and make them more appealing.
In the end, it’s not only the gut health that suffers but also the immune health, making your child’s defenses weaker.
Avoid chemical-rich foods.
These include foods containing artificial colors, flavor enhancers, preservatives and other chemicals.
Some artificial food colors are found to affect the behavior of young children and cause hyperactivity. Moreover, many artificial food preservatives are linked with serious health risks like hypersensitivity, allergies, asthma, and worse, cancer.
Eliminate refined sugars and simple carbohydrates.
According to studies, high amounts of sugar in the body can impair the function of the immune system, which can, in turn, increase the risk of getting sick.
Still thinking of giving your child that can of soda?
Did you know that within 30 minutes of eating sugar, your white blood cells' ability to "eat up" viruses and bacteria decreases by 50%? And this effect lasts for at least 5 hours!
Besides avoiding or better eliminating the components above in your child’s diet, you’ll also want to optimize the food you prepare for your kids, to make sure that they contribute to the balance of the immune system. Not the other way around.
Below are some tips on how to do it:
Prepare foods with all colors of the rainbow.
While many of the healthy food choices are green, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be playful with the colors of the food you prepare for your child.
In TCM, a healthy diet is a plate full of colors- red, yellow, purple, green and white! As long as they are the natural color of the food, meaning without food colors or additives, you’re good to go!
Different food colors signify different health benefits. TCM believes that food of the same color can help a specific organ in the body.
For example, orange foods like carrots, pumpkin or sweet potatoes support digestive health, while green foods like broccoli and parsley are good for the liver and its detox…
TCM proposes to prepare and eat foods according to seasons.
For example, during winter, it is advised to eat warming foods like legumes, dried beans, and sesame along with lamb, pork, and eggs. During summer, hydrating foods are the best like watermelon, strawberries, and cucumber.
Preparing seasonal foods for your family will help Qi to circulate better around their bodies and strengthen their immune defense.
Choose organic foods whenever possible.
Organic foods are grown or derived naturally, without the use of chemicals that can potentially harm your child’s developing body. Your child needs nourishment from natural food items, not a bunch of unknown chemicals entering his body.
Prepare food yourself.
If you want to make sure that every meal your child eats is clean and nutritious, cook and prepare the food yourself. This way, you know exactly what’s in the food your child eats and you can make sure it follows the recommendations above.
So after discovering the real connection of immune health and nutrition, it’s time to take action.
Remember that as parents, the quality of nourishment that our children get greatly lies in our hands.
But aside from giving them highly nutritious foods, it’s also essential that the type of foods we prepare matches the needs of their young bodies.
Their digestive system is still developing during the first few years of their lives. To give proper nourishment to their immune system, it’s necessary to offer them healthy foods that are most appropriate for their age and body type.
This is also why I formulated a quick pediatric body balance assessment that you can take for free. It will give you an overview of your child’s current health status and what you should focus on right now.
Nutrition and the immune system always work hand in hand. With the right help, I know you can begin nourishing your child towards a life that you’ve always wanted him to have.