Sometimes life with a toddler in the house can seem like one long stream of sniffles, ear infections and stomach bugs, punctuated by the odd infectious rash or two. You might wonder whether you can boost her immune system and help her fight off the next bug that comes down the pipe. No guarantees, but a few guidelines can give your toddler a little immunological lift.
Vitamin C, an antioxidant, hasn't been proven to boost immunity in either toddlers or adults -- the jury's still out on that -- but this important nutrient is known to help with tissue repair and thus might help with recovery from colds and other illnesses even if they can't help prevent them. What's more, supplemental vitamin C can be provided in a number of toddler-friendly forms. Citrus fruits and juices are good sources of vitamin C. So are strawberries, cranberries, blueberries, melon, kiwi, pineapple and mango. Tomatoes, bell peppers and -- believe it or not -- potatoes and broccoli are also good sources of this vitamin.
Garlic is another folk remedy that shows some signs of acting as a potent immunity booster. It has documented antimicrobial properties and is loaded with antioxidants, too. The only trick is how to get it into your toddler without fuss. Try mixing a crushed raw garlic clove into hummus or guacamole. You can also saute vegetables with a sliced clove of garlic. You can also try adding it to soup or broth or roast a head of garlic and add the soft cloves to mashed potatoes, bean and lentil dishes or dips.
Probiotic yogurt and yogurt with live cultures contain beneficial bacteria that help maintain digestive health, so it's especially good to keep plying your toddler with yogurt if their stomach is upset. Plain unsweetened yogurt is best, but you can add a spoonful of honey or mix with fresh fruit if you like. You can also use yogurt with live cultures as the base for a smoothie.
A study published in the "Journal of Leukocyte Biology" found that omega-3 fatty acids boost the production of white blood cells in mice, suggesting that a diet rich in these nutrients can help give the immune system a helpful boost. Omega-3 compounds are found in fish -- maybe Grandma and her spoonful of cod liver oil was onto something. If your toddler likes fish, you can try mashed sardines, salmon, shrimp and smoked trout. Nonfish sources include walnuts, flax seed -- try sprinkling some in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or add them to a smoothie -- spinach, broccoli and edamame.
Moderate exercise has been shown to increase white blood cell count, too, so a half-hour walk a day with your toddler can boost both of your immune systems and help fight off infection. An afternoon on the playground is enough, too.
A single scientific study from 1973 suggests that the immune system response in people drops after a sugary drink or meal, but that's enough for pediatricians such as pediatrician William Sears to recommend cutting down on sugary treats, especially during cold and flu season. And it can't hurt to replace high-sugar foods with more nutrient-dense choices in terms of generally supporting health.
A body under stress needs rest, so ensure your toddler takes a good nap and goes to bed on time, especially if he is fighting off an infection. Researchers haven't proved the mechanics of how sleep supports the immune system, but the results aren't in question. A well-rested toddler is a healthier toddler.