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As we send our kids back to school, what can we do daily to protect their and our immune health?

Food is our primary opportunity to improve our health. It is the one way we consistently look after ourselves and our family three times a day. But it can also be one of the most challenging! 

What we eat directly affects our health, physically and mentally. We know that overconsumption of refined carbohydrates, packaged and processed foods and sugar, in general, while “convenient,” is detrimental to our immune health. 

However, with a bit of time, planning and education, nutrition can be more easily attainable and allow you to feel your best. Here are some tips for how to make sustainable adjustments this fall.

1. Healthy meal composition

Chances are you spent more time with your kids in the kitchen over the last year. (Or trying to keep them out of the kitchen?) Nutrition is the #1 way we can teach our children how to care for their health.

A balanced meal contains plenty of non-starchy vegetables (chopped veggies with hummus or a vegetable stir fry), complex carbohydrates (a slice of whole-grain bread or brown rice) and adequate protein (mixed bean salad, grilled chicken breast or fish).

Pro Tips

When in doubt, keep it simple. Find what they like and prepare lots of it for the week. Then, make it part of the daily routine the night before to take out all the prepared items and compile them in a lunch box. Even better — make it a teachable moment. Our bodies require:

  • Adequate fruits & vegetables: The life in food puts life in you! These enzyme-rich foods help support healthy digestion and a robust immune system.
  • Complex carbohydrates: They supply direct energy for the body! However, because they are complex and contain fibre, digestion (and energy release) occurs slowly. They, hence, provide us with a more sustained surge of energy to get through the day.
  • Sufficient protein: Protein contains the building blocks of the body and is a slow-burning energy source. Therefore, we want to round out our meals with something that supplies sustained energy, supports our muscles and enhances cellular immunity.

2. Up immune-boosting nutrient intake!

Sometimes targeted foods can help build a healthy lifestyle. For example, vitamin E and selenium help stimulate antibody production and strengthen our cellular immunity. Zinc and vitamin A are also crucial for cellular immunity. But how can we get more of these vital immune-supportive nutrients? 

Try brazil nuts for selenium and avocados for vitamin E. Minimally processed whole grains, chickpeas and lentils are all great for zinc. Oily fish and eggs are best for vitamin A intake! 

3. Reduce sugar consumption

Refined sugars deplete nutrient stores and weaken our immune defences. Fluctuating blood sugar levels make us cranky, sloppy and exhausted. Once in a while, in moderation, indulge in your favourite treat. But try to cut back on these as a frequent thing and opt for fruit instead (which contains fibre to curb a blood sugar spike).

Pair a fruit or something sweet with healthy fat and/or protein (apples and almond butter, for example). When occasionally indulging in refined sugars, ensure you eat your meal first and that the meals surrounding your treats are nutrient-dense! 

4. Plenty of time outdoors

When the only access to an adventure we had was riding bicycles or playing games in the backyard, we took more pleasure in the simple things. Don’t let this disappear as it gets colder! 

Getting outside helps circadian rhythms and improves sleep quality; movement keeps the body functioning optimally. When everything is moving and working correctly, it revs up our immune defences, lowers stress levels and helps us cope better overall.

5. Hugs!

When we hug our loved ones, our bodies produce a chemical called oxytocin. Oxytocin is associated with empathy, trust and emotional bonding. Engaging in a sustained hug or a solid couch cuddle lowers our blood pressure and eases our stress hormones

Holding loved ones close reduces anxiety and depression, and generally helps us cope when things are challenging! As unprecedented times continue, take a second to pause and connect with someone near you. It will help us all manage a little bit better.

Food seems straightforward, but it can become complicated. Our fast-paced lives can get in the way. So take these quick tips and keep them in mind as we head into transition seasons. 

When in doubt, simplify as much as possible. Step away from packaged foods with complex labels and opt for whole foods as much as possible. Connect with nature and get creative about getting outdoors all year long. Finally, take care of your nearest and dearest with a warm embrace. 

We’re all in this together!

Alison Dowling is a content writer and an actor. Through training as a nutritionist and her love of theatre, she found writing. She’s written for Garden of Life, Organika, Pascoe and more. In her spare time, Alison records voice-overs in her home studio!

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