A healthy lifestyle has many benefits and can help your immune system fight infections like influenza. According to the National Institute of Incommunicable Disease, (NICD) flu affects millions of people every year. While most people recover easily, others can become seriously ill, so it is important that you keep your little one out of harm’s way, says Delft Community Health Centre dietician, Tanja Venter.
Your first line of defence against disease in the winter months, starts with what you eat, says Venter.
“Boosting our immune system by living a healthy lifestyle strengthens our immune response and helps our body to fight off infections like colds and flu. If you do catch a cold or the flu, having a strengthened immune system can help to reduce the severity of symptoms and the period of illness.”
Healthy kiddies, happy kiddies
Kimberley mother, Jasmine Itebogeng, says she is always armed with enough immune boosting medicines like Scots Emulsion to keep her 9-year-old daughter Bokang out of the firing lines of influenza.
“Bokang rarely gets sick,” she says. “Each morning and evening, she sprays her nose with Flomist and rinses it with Salex Sinus Nose Rinse. This helps minimise illness. When she younger, she struggled with sinus, but it is better now.”
Johannesburg mother of two, Pamela Madonsela, always makes sure she has child-friendly multivitamins in hand to keep her toddlers safe at creche.
Why a good diet is essential
If your kids are living on chicken nuggets or pizza, you’re not doing anything to help their immune systems. Eating a well-balanced diet that includes lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, is the best way to boost your immune system.
Venter says, “No single food item can guarantee immunity against colds and flu, but including food items rich in antioxidants such as selenium, zinc, vitamin A, C, E and beta carotene, can boost the immune system by ensuring that immune cells work optimally.”
Try butternut, pumpkin, citrus, whole grains, milk, and lean meats and encourage them to drink lots of clean water, she suggests.
Other foods to include in their diets include:
- Red bell peppers
- Yoghurt with live and active cultures
It is important to note that stress can also affect your immune system, making your body vulnerable to infection. Exercising can reduce stress and improve your overall health. Exercising doesn’t need to be expensive nor take up too much time.
“Find something that makes you feel good and puts a smile on your face. Dance around the house for 30 minutes to your favourite music with your family, or on your own. Alternatively, go for a brisk walk near your work or in your neighbourhood.”
Breast is always best
From the way it adapts to feed different infants at different times, to its immune-boosting qualities, breast milk may very well be the best super food of all, says Venter.
“Breastfeeding infants and toddlers up until at least the age of two years, provides children the best start to a healthy immune system. Breastmilk contains all the nutrients babies need to establish a good immune response and supports the immune system by providing antibodies from the mother.
“Ensure that the complementary food your baby receives from the age of six months, is age-appropriate and nutrient dense. Just like adults, children also need a healthy balanced diet, safe clean water, and enough sleep to keep them healthy,” she advises.
“Include fun ways to consume healthy food like banana and peanut butter popsicles or eating a rainbow of fruit. Teaching our children to eat right and to balance stress will lead to healthier children and one day, a healthier adult,” Venter says.
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