Q How can I keep my kids from getting sick this year?
A: When flu season starts, I make it simple—eat more fruits, vegetables, and seafood and go outside and play. I tell patients I want them to eat more of what I call the “Five S’s”:
The best supplements for kids, with a lot of scientific documentation, are omega-3s. For most school-age children, I recommend 500 mg per day of omega-3 DHA/EPA from a marine source. EPA/DHA is only found in seafood, and it's these two that the heart, brain, skin, and all organs use, with long-chain fatty acids. The brain especially likes these, and uses them to build tissue. Vegetable oil sources are shorter-chain, so the body has to add on to them. Look for omega-3 DHA or “marine source” on labels.
The types of foods I recommend are what I call “grow foods.” Grow foods are full of nutrients—for example, salmon, eggs, nut butters, yogurt (preferably Greek yogurt), beans, and tofu—and they're especially important for picky eaters. What they have in common is that they pack a lot of nutrition in a small volume.
The brain, above all organs in the body, is most affected by what you eat. It's 60 percent fat, and grows fastest in the first five years. This is why nutrition is so important for our children during this stage of rapid growth. If you put junk food into the brain, you get back junk behavior and junk learning. This is what I call Nutritional Deficit Disorder.
Snack Attack Strategies
Kids are snackers. A child’s tummy is the size of their fist. Think of that the next time you place a heaping plate of pasta in front of them. Kids are natural nibblers. “Dr. Bill’s Rule of 2s”: Eat twice as often, half as much, and chew twice as long. Let kids nibble. They need mid- afternoon and mid-morning snacks.
Start children off with a brainy breakfast—high in protein, good fats, and fiber. They’ll get better grades and have better behavior. Good choices are things like eggs, yogurt, blueberries, oatmeal, whole-grain toast, and fruit.
In addition to healthy fats such as omega-3s, the brain needs healthy carbohydrates (such as whole grains) and good sugars (like those found in fruit). I tell kids that good sugar has two friends—fiber and protein—to keep the sugar from rushing into the bloodstream. Bad sugar has no friends—it plays alone. Make sure snacks have at least 3 grams each of fiber and protein.
Snacks should be high in protein and fiber because you want a child to be satisfied. Look for products with no artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, or artificial fats. You want children to grow up with a taste for real food. The brain simply does not handle that chemical stuff very well.
Got to Move It
I tell patients to exercise because movement mobilizes the immune system. Additionally, to stay well during cold and flu season, don’t forget the basics such as hand washing and covering your mouth when you sneeze.