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Family Immune Support 101 for Back to School

Let's face it, as if the start of the school year wasn't already overwhelming, it makes it daunting how much more difficult it is now that COVID-19 is involved in the picture. If we've learned anything throughout this time in the world of nutrition, it's that good nutrition has some SERIOUS impact on supporting the immune system. Depending on how your child is returning back to school (fully virtual, 5 days in person, or hybrid), keeping them healthy with nourishing food is vital. In theory it sounds like an easy feat, but parents know it's often anything but that. Picky eating, knowing what to make, and being creative are some of the many barriers associated with meal times. Basically, what your child eats throughout the day matters even more now that COVID-19 continues to grace us with it's appearance.

This virus is no different in the fact that it causes inflammation within the body. So why does food have anything to do with that? Well... there are some foods that tend to enhance inflammation in the body. Now keep in mind we are all for letting your child have FUN foods, but on occasion. Not as an every day affair. Those foods to use sparingly with your child are listed below:

Inflammation Instigators:

- Fried foods

- Added sugars (in the form of sugary drinks, candies, baked goods, etc.)

- Refined carbohydrates (i.e. white bread, white rice, white pasta)

- Processed meats (i.e. salami, bologna, sausages, etc.)

- Excess saturated fats or any trans fats (i.e. lard, Jiff or Skippy PB, butter, etc.)

- Alcohol (OK, OK this doesn't apply to the little ones, but we know Mom & Dad will be needing some extra booze to survive the rest of 2020... just take it easy...)

Now that we've covered the inflammation instigator list (and likely depressed you), time to move onto the abundant list of immunity supporting warriors! Again, keep in mind the foods listed above aren't bad to have once in a while (think weekends or holidays), but they aren't the greatest if they are apart of our lives more than 20% of each week.

Although contrary to popular belief, no one food or supplement can prevent illness however, a diet that’s rich in variety ensures proper support to your child's (and your) immune system. We cannot “boost” our immune system, but rather support it.

There are definitely a few “MVP’s” in vitamins and minerals when it comes to immune support. Getting these nutrients from foods is preferred, so be sure to speak with your doctor or dietitian before taking or giving your child any supplements.

Immune Supporting Warriors:

1. Vitamin C

  • Background: Often the most renowned vitamin for immune support, vitamin C or ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin.

  • Role in immune system: vitamin C stimulates the formation of antibodies (proteins that help fight off infection).

  • Food sources: citrus, bell peppers, kiwi, strawberries, tomatoes, kale, broccoli, or foods fortified with vitamin C such as juices or some cereals.

2. Vitamin A

  • Background: Vitamin A is a fat-soluble (meaning it needs to be paired with fat to be absorbed). It's known as an anti-inflammatory vitamin because of its critical role in enhancing immune function.

  • Role in immune system: helps regulate and protect the body against infections by keeping tissues in the gastrointestinal tract and respiratory system healthy.

  • Food sources: most orange/yellow fruits and vegetables or leafy greens such as sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, spinach, bell peppers, and apricots. Also eggs, or foods fortified with vitamin A such as some cereals or milk

3. Vitamin D

  • Background: A fat-soluble vitamin also referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” as our body can make vitamin D from exposure to sunlight.

  • Role in the immune system: it regulates the essential and adaptive immune responses in the body.

  • Food sources: fatty fish, eggs, as well as milk and 100% juices that are fortified with vitamin D.

4. Vitamin E

  • Background: Vitamin E is another fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant.

  • Role in the immune system: As an antioxidant, it helps to prevent damage to the body from free radicals (unstable molecules that damage the body).

  • Food sources: fortified cereals, sunflower seeds, almonds, vegetable oils (such as sunflower or safflower oil), hazelnuts, and natural peanut butter.

5. Zinc

  • Background: Zinc is an essential mineral that our body does not make on its own.

  • Role in the immune system: it fights off invading bacteria and viruses as well as works on healing wounds.

  • Food sources: lean meat, poultry, seafood, milk, whole grains, beans, and seeds.

6. Protein

  • Background: protein is a macronutrient that is one of the major building blocks of our bodies cells.

  • Role in the immune system: it’s used especially for healing and recovery as it is used as the building blocks for the cells that operate the immune system.

  • Food sources: both animal and plant-based sources such as poultry, meat, eggs, dairy, seafood, nuts, seeds, beans, soy, and legumes.

We get it, as if there already isn't enough on your plate, finding the time to make sure your families meals are nutritionally balanced just adds to the stress. Our team of Registered Dietitians can help customize back to school meal plans for you and your children to help with immune support. We have a database of 5,100 recipes with kid-approved fun lunch ideas. Each meal plan is curated considering each family members calorie needs based off of their specific height, weight, age, activity levels with an emphasis on the above nutrients. Here's a quick video on the software we use (it's so fancy! it even basically orders your groceries for you!)

If this is something you are interested in or you would like to speak with a Registered Dietitian to learn more information please contact our office at 631-509-5544 and we'd be happy to help!

Keep those kiddos safe!

Until Next Time,

Jackie Iannone, MS, RDN, CDN

Owner and President

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