Kids Seasonal Immunity & the Influence of Nutrition

Posted October 14, 2013 | Nutrition & Health Tips


Fall brings many changes— the weather cools down, the leaves turn pretty colors, and kids are back in school participating in lots of new activities.  This transitional time can leave children more susceptible to illness.  Fun fact: the average preschooler brings home around nine colds each year and kindergarteners have around 12 colds per year.  So what can we do for our kids to prevent them from getting sick to begin with?

Maintaining a healthy immune system is your child’s best defense against getting sick this season.  By having a well-nourished body through good nutrition with lots of healthy exercise and rest will help keep germs away.

What is the immune system?
The immune system is not just one organ or type of cell; it is the coordination and synchronization of a number of specialized cells, proteins, tissues, and organs that act together as a system.  This system is the body’s defense against foreign invaders and infectious organisms (such as bacteria, viruses, and allergens).  The first responders of the immune system are the white blood cells, also called leukocytes.  These cells circulate through the body seeking out foreign antigens that can cause damage.  To function well, our immune systems require the help and support of a healthy diet providing lots of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and bioactives.  The dietary “helpers” allow the immune system to coordinate appropriately and protect the body from harm.

How does nutrition influence immunity?
Since our immune system requires the help of certain nutrients to function adequately, a healthy diet comprised of unprocessed whole foods is the key to fighting infection and disease prevention.  Here are some basic ways nutrition can affect immunity:

  • Protein deficiency can lead to decreased white blood cell function and cytokine production.
  • Vitamin deficiencies can alter and impair the immune response in many ways.  For example, a deficiency in vitamins A or D can reduce the immune cells’ ability to identify and respond to antigen invaders.  Deficiencies in any of the B-vitamins can reduce the amount and action of white blood cells and can alter the metabolism of cytokines and antibodies.
  • Excessive sugar intake leads to imbalanced blood glucose, promotes inflammation, and reduced immune response.
  • Processed foods are often devoid of essential nutrients and bioactives and contain artificial chemicals that disrupt our immune defenses.  They can also alter part of our body’s first line of defense (our digestive tract) and cause issues such as food sensitivities, inflammation, leaky gut, and dysbiosis.

For optimal nutrition, try to increase your child’s consumption of whole unprocessed foods- fresh organic fruit and vegetables, pasture-raised meat and eggs, wild-caught fish, whole grains, beans & legumes, nuts & seeds, and plenty of water.  Sometimes kids can be picky eaters and will often turn up their noses to new “healthy” foods.  Try to get creative and experiment with different foods to find nutritious options that your kids will enjoy.  Their immune system will thank you!

Immune Strengthening Shiitake Miso Soup

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 small carrot, cut into julienne or matchstick-size pieces
6 shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and discarded, caps sliced thin
2 kale leaves, stems removed and leaves shredded
1 teaspoon wakame crumbles
3 cups hot Bone Broth or hot water
3 tablespoons naturally fermented miso
1 scallion, chopped fine for garnish

1.  In a medium soup pot, sauté the onion with sea salt in olive oil for 2-4 minutes, or until almost translucent.
2.  Add the carrot and continue to cook for 1 more minute.  Add the mushrooms and kale and cook for 2 more minutes, until all the vegetables are soft.
3.  Pour the hot broth or water into pot and add the miso and wakame.
4.  Stir until miso is dissolved and incorporated.  Serve in bowls and garnish with scallion.

Variation: For a heartier soup, add tofu, cooked fish, quinoa, or brown rice. Miso soup is also excellent with leftover starchy vegetables such as squash, rutabaga, sweet potatoes, etc.

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