Back to school is just around the corner and for many families, this feels like the real New Year! I've had a lot of parents reaching out asking me about ways to boost their child's immune system, improve their health and boost brainpower, which is exactly why I put this post together.
I've focused a lot on natural health supplements but I want you to know that taking natural health supplements are not a quick-fix. While it can certainly help give your child's immune system support, nourish their microbiome and their brain health, it's not a cure-all. A healthy diet full of colourful fruits and veggies, healthy fats and high-quality protein is just important. That being said, here are my top essentials for healthy kids.
1. Nourish the brain with omega-3s.
Our body cannot make omega-3s which is why they are considered essential, meaning, they are an essential part of our diet - we must eat them. The three types of omega-3s are ALA, DHA and EPA with DHA and EPA having most of the health benefits for our body. These types of fats are found in plant and animal foods .
However, plant-based omega-3s (ALAs) must be converted to EPA and DHA to really benefit our body.
The conversion rate of plant based omega-3s is very very low, about 6% for EPA and 3.8% for DHA making plant-based omega-3s NOT the ideal source for brain healthy omegas.
And this matters because we need omega-3s for brain health and cognitive function, to reduce the risk of anxiety and depression, cancer/diabetes/heart disease prevention, and more. Eating fish and seafood is the best way to obtain them in a child's diet as is taking a natural health supplement. That's why I collaborated with Genuine Health to bring you omega-3+ for kids which also includes vitamin D3 and lutein - both for brain and eye health. Lutein protects the eyes from excessive screentime which many kids are exposed to. You can learn more about it here.
2. Vitamin D
Most North Americans are deficient in Vitamin D , even those who spend time in the sun because most people slather themselves in sunblock.
Vitamin D helps support the healthy development of the brain, eyes and nerves in children up to 12 years old. It’s important for cognitive health and brain function, as well as the development and maintenance of bones and teeth.
Unlike most nutrients, it's actually difficult to get an adequate amount of vitamin D from food but the good news is that our body has the ability to manufacture vitamin D. It’s commonly referred to as the "sunshine vitamin" because sunlight is the best way to get vitamin D in our bodies. Unfortunately, in cooler climates like Canada, we just aren’t getting enough sunlight to really get us the required daily amount of D, which is why I suggest supplementing with vitamin D from birth.
I give Vienna Genuine Health's Omega-3 +D3 but in the winter months when the days are shorter I also give her additional vitamin D with Genestra's D-Mulsion and I used to give her D-Drops when she was a baby.
One of the most exciting and growing areas of research is the microbiome. I've written extensively about the microbiome on the blog (plus elsewhere ) and shared 5 Ways to Support Your Child's Microbiome here but the key thing to know is that the microbiome plays a critical role in a robust immune system. Research has shown us that low levels of levels of bacteria called bifido and lactobacillus are associated with the development of allergies, eczema and asthma in children.
A child’s microbiome begins in utero and continues to develop rapidly after birth, forming and housing the immune system which will help them ward off disease later in life. A variety of factors can support or hinder the development of the microbiome, from breastfeeding, to antibiotic usage and the environment in the home.
With allergies and asthma drastically on the rise and the number of children with digestive problems, it is essential we look at ways we can positively support our child’s microbiome and in turn, their immune system.
When Vienna was a baby and chewable probiotics were not an option I gave her baby probiotics by Genestra. It's a powder so I just mixed it with a touch of water on a spoon, or I put it in a bottle and when I started introducing foods to her I would just mix it into her food. Now I give her Genuine Health's probiotics because they are super yummy chewables that are a multi-strain probiotic that is specifically formulated with your child's health in mind. In fact, she asks for them EVERY DAY, so I never forget!
4. get outside in nature every day
I know this isn't a supplement but it's absolutely essential for healthy kids! Getting outside in nature for kids has many research-backed benefits. According to a paper from Aarhus University in Denmark, kids who grow up surrounded by nature have a 55% less risk of developing various mental disorders later in life. It even benefits children positively diagnosed with hyperactivity and attention-deficit disorder by helping them have better focus and attention.
The great outdoors also helps kids better withstand and recover from challenging
situations in other words, it helps kids be more resilient.
Being in nature is also extremely beneficial for a child's microbiome because it exposes them to microbes they wouldn't come into contact with indoors. Coming into contact with diverse microbes helps train the immune system making it less reactive as children grow up. Children who play in sandboxes and get dirty have a greater microbial diversity than those who don't.
5. Eat Colourful Foods
North American kids' diets are sadly lacking in fruit and vegetables. In fact, research has shown that kids are severely lacking colour and the majority of their intake of fruits and veggies comes from fruit juice and white potato -- certainly not ideal.
Eating a variety of colourful plant foods ensures that your child consumes a ton of phytonutrients. Phytonutrients come in the thousands and they’re the beneficial compounds in plants that give them their unique taste, texture and colour. They have hundreds of benefits for kids. Some phytonutrients support the immune system, act as antioxidants, protecting our cells from oxidative damage caused by toxins; others are anti-inflammatory and tame chemicals that would otherwise increase inflammation . They have a diverse set of health benefits for kids and adults alike, and one of their many notable benefits is supporting the growth of beneficial microbes.
You can find phytonutrients in fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds, legumes, spices, whole grains and even tea!
Another idea for you is what I call in our home, a "nutritional insurance policy" and that's fermented organic gut superfoods for kids by Genuine Health. It has 22 organic and fermented superfoods to support your child's: cognitive function, mood, immune function and digestive health, particularly their bowel movements! Plus it comes in a yummy grape flavour that kids love! There are many yummy ways to incorporate this into your child's diet.
I have hundreds of kid-friendly recipes on Joyous Health like Cauliflower Tacos ...
Everyday Superfood Granola Bars
Chocolate Avocado Pudding
And that's not all! Be sure to download Little Food Lovers which is a FREE guide of healthy snacking recipes for kids.
And finally... the 6th essential for a healthy back to school is.....
6. Reduce Screen Time
I know this can be a touchy subject with many parents and we've all been there turning on a show just so we can get some peace and quiet. I am by no means suggesting you be the perfect parent when it comes to managing your child's screentime, but being aware of it and having healthy family rules around screentime is something I encourage you to do with your family. It's important.
Research is now showing that screentime can cause language delays, among other negative implications.
In fact, I interviewed an expert on this topic and you can learn more about why you'll want to limit your child's screentime .
As I have always said, LESS SCREENTIME MEANS MORE GREEN TIME! :)
7. Hugs and kisses galore.
You likely don't need another excuse to hug and kiss your kids but in case you needed a reminder, here it is :)
There is a positive lifelong impact of a child who gets adequate good fats (specifically omega-3s), vitamin D, probiotics to support their microbiome , eats plenty of colourful fruits and veggies, gets a daily dose of nature and keeps screen time to a limit. This helps to set the stage for a healthy adult and establish healthy habits that will last a lifetime.
Wishing you a healthy back-to-school season!