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Rev Up Your Immune System

COVID-19 still very much present, and with the current change of season, we need to strengthen our immunity to stay healthy, writes Lynne Gidish.

Right now, says Giulia Criscuolo, a registered pharmacist and complementary health practitioner, we’re all pretty much sitting ducks for infections. “Our level 5 lockdown last year meant that colds and flu were almost nonexistent,” she explains. “But being out so often these days could result in us becoming sick.” This, says Criscuolo, is because most of us are dealing with depleted immune systems due to the ongoing emotional and physical stress that’s become part of our daily lives. However, there’s plenty we can do to fight infection.

Give your body a supplementary boost

Here’s Criscuolo’s favourite choices for supplementation.

  • Vitamin D can reduce incidences of colds and flu by 50 per cent – low levels of vitamin D have also been associated with a higher rise of COVID-19 hospitalisation.
  • Vitamin C – preferably liposomal (fat-soluble) – boosts your immune cells, helps to increase the production of antibodies and may shorten the duration of a cold.
  • Selenium may improve your immune response to viral infections.
  • Zinc may help shorten the duration of colds and flu by up to 40 per cent.
  • Probiotics – a healthy gut equals a healthy immune system.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory. They help boost your immune
    system and have been shown to help lower the risk of COVID-19 by 12 per cent.
  • Curcumin is a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant and helps to support a strong immune system.

All of these can be taken safely by the whole family, says Criscuolo, who recommends always discussing any form of supplementation with your health practitioner or pharmacist.

The big picture

The number of overweight and obese children is increasing around the world. Our expert weighs in on why this is happening

Malnutrition is a condition caused by eating a diet that lacks a healthy amount of one or more of the important nutrients needed for your body to function optimally, says registered dietician Minette Schoombie. “Globally, at least one in three children under the age of five is not growing well due to malnutrition, causing manifestations of stunting and wasting as well as obesity.”

The causes

According to Schoombie, childhood obesity is a complex chronic disease that has multiple causes. “There are several factors linked to this,” she says. “The environments that children grow up in these days make it much easier for childhood obesity to occur. Children are often exposed to high-sugar, high-fat, high-salt and energy-dense foods that lack micronutrients. While these foods tend to be much cheaper, they are also much lower in nutrient quality, resulting in vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

“Overeating these energy-dense foods combined with a lack of physical activity not only puts children at risk for obesity, but also for the double burden of malnutrition that occurs in obese children. Early influences and even intergenerational factors can also increase the risk for being overweight and obese,” she continues.

“Parental overweight and obesity is a risk factor for childhood obesity because family influences that encourage micronutrient-lacking energy-dense diets can result in children gaining unnecessary weight. Cultural background is another contributor: for example, in certain South African communities, there’s a strong tendency towards larger body sizes being seen as more acceptable, particularly for women.”

The health risks

Obesity in children has serious health implications, says Schoombie. Children who suffer from obesity have a higher likelihood of developing:

•  adult obesity

•  heart disease

•  type 2 diabetes

•  asthma

•  allergies

•  sleep apnoea

•  stigmatisation and depression.

“The first 1 000 days in a child’s life is crucial,” says Schoombie. “What your child eats and doesn’t eat during this time sets the scene for long-term nutritional implications. Ensuring adequate nutrition in the first few years can help them enjoy a long healthy life, which is why investing in nutrition is one of the best gifts to give your child.”

What to eat in the early years

What your baby eats in the early years significantly impacts their development. Here’s how to ensure that their nutritional requirements are met

Initially, babies only need milk (breast or formula) to thrive and survive, says registered dietician Rosanne Lombard. “As they get older, milk on its own no longer meets their nutritional needs, and to grow and develop optimally and reach their developmental milestones, they require additional protein, vitamin A, vitamin D, iron and zinc.”

The solid facts

There’s often confusion about when to start introducing additional nutrition, says Lombard. “The World Health Organization has a standardised recommendation of introducing solids at around six months, while the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHN) suggests anytime between 17 and 26 weeks. However, every child is different so take note of possible cues that your baby is ready. These include:

•  opening their mouth when a spoon comes towards them

•  being able to sit without support

•  being able to hold their head steady while sitting

•  trying to grab food to put in their mouth.

What’s the best diet?

The ideal diet for babies and children includes all the food groups – carbohydrates, proteins and fats, says Lombard.

•  Carbohydrates: oats, potato, sweet potato, brown rice, fruit (mashed banana, pawpaw, mango) and vegetables (carrots, broccoli, gem squash, pumpkin).

•  Proteins: Legumes (baked beans, chickpeas, lentils), fish (hake, pilchards, salmon, tuna), chicken, red meat, eggs and dairy (full cream yoghurt, cream cheese and cow’s milk – only after 12 months).

•  Fats: avocado, olive oil, various nut butters.

What to avoid

Anything that adults should be limiting, should also be limited for children, advises Lombard. The following examples of foods should be limited or avoided in the early years.

•  Sugar: foods that contain sugar (pastries, cake, chocolates), drinks that contain sugar (cold drinks, fizzy drinks, fruit juices). Try to avoid adding sugar to food.

•  Salt: processed meats because they tend to contain a lot of extra salt. Avoid adding salt to the food you make.

•  Hard food: olives, popcorn, grapes, whole nuts.

•  Cow’s milk: only after 12 months – milk alternatives like almond milk are far better.

The aim is to ensure that you’re giving your child the best nutritional start possible,” says Lombard. “So your goal is to expose them to all the important nutrients. The greater the variety of food you offer your child, the better!”

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