These days we have so much information at our fingertips to help solve any parenting dilemma (admittedly, most of the times we may have too much). You could argue the Internet was both the best and worst thing to ever happen to parenting.
Despite the sometimes overwhelming amount of information, it’s still nice to consult a parenting expert once in a while to get some new ideas, advice and even a dose of perspective.
At LiveMom, we want to help answer your questions. We have a recurring feature called Ask the Expert, brought to you by Baylor Scott & White Health, that will take on a wide range of subjects, from potty training to car seats to dealing with kids and technology to anything in between.
It may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s certainly not the healthiest. We are all pushing ourselves to our limits, and often the only thing which makes us slow down is illness. Which leads us to this month’s question:
What is the best way to stay healthy during the winter months?
No one has time to spare on a cold or the flu this winter. One thing you can do is beef up your immune system as a first line of defense against common winter-time illnesses. Eating a clean and balanced diet with a daily exercise routine and plenty of quality sleep can help boost your immunity. But there are also specific foods that can add a little extra kick to that according to both Diana Cook, M.D., Family Medicine Physician, Baylor Scott & White Clinic–Hutto and Dan Steffy, M.D., Family Medicine Physician, Baylor Scott & White Clinic – Avery Ranch.
By ingesting the right immune “boosters” you’re increasing your own ability to help battle germs and that of your child’s. Studies have linked a number of foods and nutrients to strengthening the immune system.
Here are the top nutrients (and foods) to add to your diet to cut down on days missed from work or school this winter:
- Carotenoids: These nutrients increase the effectiveness of your immune system by serving as a powerful antioxidant. Carotenoids can be found in vegetables that are orange in color, such as carrots and yams. They are also found in dark leafy greens, tomatoes, and pink grapefruit. In general, the greater the intensity of color, the higher the level of carotenoids.
- Bioflavenoids: These compounds are found naturally in plants and have antioxidant, anti-allergenic, and antiviral properties. They can protect cells from environmental pollutants and reduce cholesterol’s ability to form plaque that can lead to heart attack and stroke. They are essential for the absorption of vitamin C and should be taken together. Fortunately, many fruits that are high in Vitamin C are also high in bioflavonoids, including citrus fruits and dark berries.
- Vitamin D3: In the winter with less daylight, it can be tough to get enough from direct sunlight. Low vitamin D can affect mood and energy levels as well as lead to weak bones if levels stay low. Supplements are available at most health food and grocery stores. For adults, aim for about 800 to 1500 IU per day of Vitamin D3. **Different dosing will apply to children, pregnant women and those with kidney disease.
- Zinc: This valuable mineral is found in high concentrations in red and white cells and boosts immune response against infection. It’s safest to get your zinc intake from diet. Sources include beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, garlic, turkey, oysters, and crab. Aim for about 15 mg daily.
- Garlic: Garlic stimulates infection-fighting white cells, acts as an antioxidant, and keeps platelets from sticking together and clogging tiny blood vessels. Garlic also inhibits the growth of different species of bacteria. Odorless, tasteless garlic supplements are an option, but lightly steamed fresh garlic is best. Those using Warfarin should not take garlic.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids, found in flax oil, and fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel, help minimize inflammation, which is commonly associated with infection. Aim for 2,000 mg daily.
- Probiotics: In children ages 3 years and up, Lactobacillus acidophilus (5 billion cells) and Bifidobacterium animalis (5 billion cells) given once daily from November through February has been shown to reduce the incidence of fever by 73%, coughing by 62%, runny nose by 59%, and duration of symptoms by 48% over the cold and flu season.
It’s often recommend you get as many vitamins and minerals as possible through food rather than supplements because the body absorbs nutrients from food more effectively. Check your plate and your child’s plate to make sure that there’s plenty of color from fruits and vegetables. Also, keep them well hydrated by having small amounts of water frequently throughout the day.
*Before taking any supplements make sure that you talk with your health care provider about what types and amounts are appropriate for you or your child.
In addition to watching the foods you eat, there are certain lifestyle changes that can boost not only your immune system, but also your child’s, including:
- Washing hands often with soap and warm water, and also using hand sanitizer
- Getting at least eight hours of sleep
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Maintain your regular exercise schedule (cardiovascular and strength training)
- Reduce or eliminate processed, refined sugar
- Keep stress levels to a minimum
- Get your recommended vaccines, according to age and current medical condition
For more information, please call 512-509-0200.