- Eat REAL and seasonally! Warm soups and stews provide great cover to get your kids to eat a wide variety of nourishing veggies. Traditional bone broth (cooked for 24 hours with a little organic apple cider vinegar) from organic meat sources is a powerful source of vitamins, minerals and protein, including the glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) that are so important to gut integrity. Broths can be easily incorporated into all your soups and stews. Avoid processed foods. Their chemical additives, preservatives and “enriched” flours full of synthetic nutrients can drag down your immune capacity.
- Feast on the fermentation! Fermented foods feed your child’s immune system and are most important at this time of year. Beneficial bacteria also produce essential folate and vitamin K in the gut. Think of your inner ecosystem as a garden where a wide variety of species, including thousands of different types of bacteria must flourish and depend on each other. In turn, you depend on them for proper digestion, absorption and immune function. To provide a nourishing environment for your inner ecosystem, avoid acidity by eating plenty of alkalizing foods, such as vegetables and fruits. Studies have also shown good bacteria take root and flourish much better when given in the form of fermented foods than when given as probiotic supplements, especially if eaten in conjunction with foods high in proteolytic enzymes such as pineapple, papaya, kiwi, and ginger (in tea, soups or sauces). Yet many parents find it almost impossible to get their kids to eat their homemade sauerkraut or other fermented veggies. I find the easiest way to start is to slip a spoonful of fermentation liquid from your homemade fermented veggies into veggie juice, soups (be sure they are cooled to about 100° first so the heat will not kill the bacteria) or smoothies. Adding miso (organic, gluten and soy free varieties are available) to soups and stews (again, after they have cooled a bit) is also an easy and flavorful source of beneficial bacteria, vitamin K and natural digestive enzymes. And of course, there is yogurt, kefir, fermented honey, etc.
- Get your D3! Many kids on the spectrum suffer from vitamin D deficiencies even if they are getting lots of sun. This may relate to inability to convert the D from the sun due to lack of vitamin K in the gut. In winter we have less sun exposure, so it’s even more important that our kids take in a good supply of the fat soluble vitamins—A, D, K, E. I always prefer whole food sources like raw butter, cod liver oil, green vegetables. If you take supplements, steer clear of synthetic sources, and take them with food for better absorption. Avoid added synthetic vitamins like D2 in processed foods.
- Avoid sugar and processed foods! For every teaspoon of sugar you eat, your white blood cells’ capacity to engulf pathogens decreases. Did you know that consuming 8 tablespoons of sugar, (as in 2-1/2 12-ounce cans of soda or vitamin water, 2 bags of skittles, 2 cupcakes, or 4 commercial brand yogurts), can reduce the ability of white blood cells to kill germs by 40 percent? The immune-suppressing effect of sugar starts less than thirty minutes after ingestion and lasts for up to five hours. Sugar also feeds yeast and bad bacteria – the weeds in your internal ecosystem — and tends to acidify the body and deplete essential minerals. Processed foods are full of hidden sugar and chemical toxins than can hinder immune function.
- Get an Oil Change! The oils we take in directly affect immune function. Your brain is 60% fat, and the type of fat you eat can make a big difference in brain function. Use coconut oil as your primary oil for cooking. It is stable at higher heat, and has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal capacity. Add it to smoothies, sauces, refried beans. Increase your intake of good fats through eating fish (low mercury varieties, a maximum of 1 time a week for kids), nuts, seeds and avocado. If your child does not have adverse effects from dairy proteins, raw butter (unpasteurized) is a great source of healthy fat. Add flax, hemp, and chia seeds to smoothies. Sprinkle walnuts and pumpkin seeds on salads. Use flax, walnut or olive oil in salads. Ditch all sources of transfats, and stop using vegetable oils like safflower, corn, sunflower, soy and canola. Be sure to serve some good fats with your vegetables and fruits to maximize your body’s ability to absorb their fat soluble vitamin content.