Monday, January 13

SNACK TIME immunity boosting foods

Getting sick when you're a kid is a part of growing up. On average, children have six to eight colds per year. Children develop their immune system by battling a series of germs and viruses. But there are healthy eating habits children can adopt that may enhance their immunity.

Eat colorful vegetables and fruits every day (the rainbow diet). Carrots, squash, broccoli, oranges, berries, etc. all contain immunity-boosting phytonutrients such as vitamin C and carotenoids. Phytonutrients may increase the body's production of infection-fighting white blood cells and interferon, an antibody that coats cell surfaces, blocking out viruses. Try to get your child to eat five servings of fruits and veggies every day!

Add Probiotics and Prebiotics. Probiotics, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus or bifidobacteria, are living microorganisms that change the bacterial balance in the gut wall. Adding probiotics or prebiotics to children’s diets may have some potential in treating viral diarrhea, preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea and boosting immune function.  About 85 percent of our immune system is located in the gut or digestive wall.  The type and amount of microbes in the gut flora can impact the forms of immune cells the body produces.

Try fermented foods. Historically, cultured and fermented foods have a long tradition in many cultures and are found all over the world. Our ancestors somehow knew they were good for us! See below for an international cuisine of fermented foods that naturally contain probiotics.

Sauerkraut, a traditional food of Germany, contains the probiotics leuconostoc, pediococcus, and lactobacillus. The spicy Korean dish, Kimchi, also contains sauerkraut. Miso, the fermented bean dish originating in Japan, reportedly contains antioxidants, B vitamins and more than 100 bacterial strains. Kefir, a creamy yogurt-like beverage that dates back to the shepherds of Eurasia’s Caucasus Mountains, contains both probiotic bacteria and some strains of yeast.  Naturally fermented sour pickles, sourdough bread, and buttermilk also contain beneficial probiotics.

Prebiotics, such as fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), nurture and support the growth of probiotics. Foods such as banana, asparagus, oatmeal, and Jerusalem artichoke naturally contain prebiotics.  Banana and yogurt anyone?

Common Sense Caution:
Probiotics or prebiotics may offer some benefits to healthy children and infants, but they should not be given to children who are chronically or seriously ill or who have compromised immune systems.

Cook with mushrooms.  Mushrooms may strengthen your immune system because they are rich in antioxidants, vitamins C and D, and beta-glucans--a type of fiber with antimicrobial and antioxidant capabilities.  The beta-glucans in mushrooms (especially Reishi, Shiitake, King Trumpet and Maitake) are notable for their ability to activate the immune system.

Eat smart, stay strong!

Image credit:
Submitted by Leslie Kay-Getzinger, MS RD
Regional Dietitian for Nutrition Management Services Company

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