By Annalies Corse
Nutritional Support For Your Little Ones
If your baby, toddler or preschool aged child begins to attend day care, what follows can be a huge shock to parents, especially if you are doing this for the first time. Like it or not, day care is renowned for introducing and spreading infections amongst the kids in attendance. This is not to say that day care facilities are to blame. The main reasons children in day care are sick more often is firstly due to their immature immune system. Breastfed or not, your child will come in contact with viral, bacterial and even fungal and parasitic infections they have never had before.
Secondly, wherever you have a big crowd of children, there will be infectious germs everywhere. The most common infections spread around in day care centres include upper respiratory tract infections (URTI’s) (mostly viruses), gastroenteritis (viral and bacterial causes), conjunctivitis (viral and bacterial) and Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (viral).
While even the healthiest and most pristine diet cannot stop your children from getting sick at day care or preschool, a good diet is imperative to make sure your children recover quickly, and develop a much less severe bout of illness. Carbohydrates are important for energy, and your childs’ immune system uses a lot of energy when fighting an infection and building immunity. Think colourful vegetables and fruits; not only are they a good source of carbohydrate, they contain abundant vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Avoid carbohydrates from highly sweetened foods and drinks. Rice, pasta, quinoa, barley, oats, rye and amaranth based foods are good if your child tolerates them, but should not be filled up on at the expense of fruit and veg.
Fats are essential for strong immunity, with many saturated fats shown to be extremely antimicrobial for infections. Never feed your children low fat products; not only are they highly processed to make them, they are devoid of fats required by your child for energy production during infection, and microbial resistance. Avocado, butter, eggs, olive and coconut oils are all great, as is fish (in moderation, with a focus on healthy sources, not tinned and not too much deep sea fish).
Whenever your child develops an infection, they will develop antibodies against the causative microorganism. Antibodies are actually proteins, so your kids need to eat protein to have enough to help make their own! Eggs, meats and poultry are all excellent sources of protein. Go for the best quality you can afford with these. Plants contain protein too, but if your kids are finicky eaters or have low appetites, they may not get the protein they need from a highly plant based diet. Beans, legumes, pulses, tree nuts, seeds and lentils are all plant-based sources of protein.
The National Health and Medical Research council (NHMRC) of Australia recommends that little kids under 6 years old should consume no more than 150mL of fruit juice per day. Fruit juice, whether bottled or made fresh in a juicer, is loaded with sugar. Water is the best choice for children. Cows milk or other milks such as goat, oat and almond milk are also options, but remember that grains and nuts are often highly processed in order to make milk from them. They often require many additives to make them palatable to drink. Excessive fruit juice in kids has been linked to dental caries (tooth decay) and failure to thrive.
The micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) needed for a healthy immune system are pretty much all of them, with a focus on the minerals iron, zinc and selenium, and the vitamins C, A, B2, B3, B5 and B12. Always see a health professional with specific education in nutritional medicine before dosing up your kids. Kids need far less than the adult dose, and most over the counter formulations contain sub-therapeutic doses of nutrients to be truly effective for long term health. Certain strains of probiotics are often essential for kids in day care and preschool.
Final tips to bolster immunity
- Ensure your children are getting enough sleep on a very regular basis.
- Hand hygiene is the single best way to prevent the spread of infection, and not only for your kids. Wash your hands after picking up your kids from day care, and lead by example at home. It is the most undervalued, under practiced and effective infection control method in health and medicine.
- Ensure your children are completely up to date with their immunisations, and ensure they eat really well both before and after their shots.
- NHMRC (2015). Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents. Available at: http://www.nhmrc.gov.au
- NHMRC (2015). Staying Healthy: Preventing infectious diseases in early childhood education and care services (5th Edition). Available at: https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines-publications/ch55