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Maintaining Immune Health in our Children as they Return to School

September 17, 2015

The end of summer is always bittersweet… it’s been such a joy to watch our children run around carefree through the summer months… watching them get dirty and wet, and listen to their infectious laughter. During the summer months, we tend to eat lots of fresh produce which can help to improve our overall health. We’re also much more active and we tend to sweat out a lot of toxins. For some of us, we also spend time in salt water which can be very healing. Just being in the sun and in nature can promote our health greatly.

But as always is the case, as school begins, our children re-enter into the Petri dish of fall and winter in New England. They start to have a runny nose. For some, they complain of belly aches… and the onset of colds and viruses begin. This tends to be so common for some that it can feel like part of the ritual of beginning school every fall. Is there a way for us to stop the cycle? In fact, there are many things we can do that can help to promote our immune health.

The standard American diet is becoming more and more correlated with illness today. When we eat a diet that is largely inflammatory, not only do we create an environment in our body that leads to disease but also we weaken our immune system on a day-to-day basis. Even the common cold can be food related. It’s not the food specifically that causes the cold, but rather, it’s the food that weakens our immune system and then we are more affected by our environment and are more susceptible to colds, viruses, and other wintry illnesses.

So how can we eat to strengthen our immune system? The first step is to understand what foods are inflammatory and what foods are not. Here is a basic list of inflammatory foods:

• Grain, especially Gluten: Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and sometimes oats.
• Refined sugar/artificial sweeteners: By reducing refined sugar, we can improve our immune system and our general health greatly. Here are some natural sweeteners that are better options: Raw honey, pure maple syrup, coconut or palm sugar, and Stevia.
• Preservatives and processed food: If it comes in a box or package, it very likely has some preservatives. Preservatives are difficult to break down in the body which means that they stay in the body and contribute to inflammation and disease over time.
• Processed dairy: Some people do well with a natural dairy source, but for many dairy can be mucous-producing. If we tend to have sinus issues or are prone to colds and respiratory problems during the fall and winter months, avoiding dairy can be very helpful.

Here is a list of foods that can be helpful in promoting a stronger immune system:

• Eat lots of vegetables: There is a very helpful list that can be found on the internet called, “Clean 15, Dirty Dozen.” When you ‘Google’ this list, you can find a list of foods that are less harmful to eat when they are non-organic and a list of foods that really should be organic because of how much spraying of pesticides is involved. Nowadays, you can find some fun vegetable snacks available at most natural grocers, such as roasted kale or small packages of roasted seaweed.
• Eat local and fresh fruit: Fruit carries many important enzymes to help aid the body’s immune system. Fruit is a great snack option for our children to substitute for other more processed options.
• Drink lots of water: If we can substitute fruit juice and other drinks with water, we have achieved the greatest goal. By increasing our water intake, we can promote drainage and improve our health.
• Eat more protein: If we are limited in protein intake, it can affect our learning and focus. Unless you are a vegetarian, natural protein is a great option for snacks. Today, there are many forms of natural beef and turkey jerky that you can find at Whole Foods Market and other natural grocers. These are always fun options for snacks that don’t need to be refrigerated.
• Nuts and seeds always make great snacks: They carry many healthy nutrients and can fill us up when we are craving less healthy options. One great snack option is making trail mix for our children which include varied nuts, seeds, and some dried fruit. On a side note, some of us may not be aware of the inflammatory effects of peanuts. A great substitute for peanut butter is Sun Butter, made from sunflower seeds. It is has a similar consistency and tastes great!

As we embark on this journey of health for our children, it is helpful to note that our children will tend to eat healthier if we embrace the process as well. For many of us adults, chronic pain is an issue as well as other types of illness. These issues are typically inflammatory. By reducing inflammatory foods in our diet, and in general, in our kitchen, we can reduce our pain and improve our health as well as become greater role models to our children.

 Ayelet Connell-Giammatteo, PhD, PT, IMT,C is the President and Owner of Integrative Wellness and Physical Therapy in Bloomfield, CT, a wellness center specializing in holistic Physical Therapy, Integrative Manual Therapy (IMT), and nutritional wellness. Dr. Connell-Giammatteo is a Physical Therapist and Certified Integrative Manual Therapist. She has been practicing for over 15 years. Dr. Connell-Giammatteo received her Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Therapy from The University of Hartford in Connecticut. She received her Doctoral Degree from Union Institute & University in Cincinnati, Ohio, focusing in neuropediatrics, with a concentration in autism. 

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