This is a sponsored post by SmartyPants Vitamins.
We live in the age of information overload, especially when it comes to health advice. It seems like every day there's a new food you must eat or a workout you should have started yesterday. It's even more overwhelming (and borderline terrifying) when it comes to raising children. Once upon a time, making sure your kid had breakfast and didn't pick their friend's nose was the gold standard of healthy living. Now, you feel guilty if they don't have the latest superfood to trade in the lunchroom.
Fortunately, we at SmartyPants believe in simplifying health. Staying up on the latest trends is great, but there's something to be said for mastering the tried-and-true basics.
Here are 10 easy ways you and your kids can stay healthy, happy and sane.
VITAMINS C & E
“Vitamin C cures a cold." Old news, right? Well, not quite. Research shows that taking vitamin C alone only produces a small reduction in the duration of a cold. Vitamin E, on the other hand, has been proven to help strengthen the immune system and its antioxidant effects are enhanced when taken together with vitamin C. Fortunately, these two are often found together in nature. Foods that contain both C and E include berries, avocado, tomatoes, pomegranates, kiwi, mango, papaya, guava, broccoli and green, leafy vegetables.
Another well-known wellness booster, zinc is key to proper immune cell function and may be directly involved in antibody production. But you don't want to go overboard – too much zinc can actually work against the immune system. The most bioavailable – or easily absorbable – dietary sources of zinc are oysters, beef liver, crab, and lamb. If you're a vegan, the best dietary sources of zinc are soaked and sprouted pumpkin seeds, ground sesame seeds, and unsweetened dark chocolate.
VITAMINS A & D
Vitamin D3 is critical for our immune function. Our bodies produce this nutrient when our skin is exposed to sunlight – which could play a role in why many people get sick during the darker, winter months. Vitamin A is also vital for immune health and some research suggests that these nutrients are even more effective at supporting immunity when taken together. The most bioavailable dietary sources of vitamin A are found in animal foods such as liver and egg yolks. Vitamin D is a little trickier to get through diet. It's found in small amounts in fatty fish such as tuna, mackerel, and salmon, but the most bioavailable form of vitamin D is kind made by our bodies after exposure to sunlight. You can read more about vitamin D and safe sun exposure here.
Over 2,000 years ago Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut." Research over the past two decades has backed this up, proving that 70 to 80 percent of our immune system is located in our gut. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts naturally found in our gut which have been shown to not only support our immune system, but also contribute to multiple areas of our overall health including optimal digestion (easing occasional gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea), oral health, mood and energy balance, nutrient absorption, immune function, and normal fat metabolism.*
You can find probiotics almost everywhere in the environment, from the food we eat to the dirt on our hands. Edible good bacteria are most plentiful in fermented foods, such as unpasteurized sauerkraut and kimchee, yogurts that contain “live active cultures," and kombucha, a bubbly tea that's like an all-natural soda. You can also get probiotics in the form of supplements. Learn more about the benefits of probiotics and how to pick the right ones one here.
If probiotics are like Batman for the immune system, then fiber is like Robin. Fiber is found in certain foods such as fruits and vegetables and it is indigestible to humans. Fiber passes through the stomach and winds up in the small intestine, where it can act as food to feed probiotic bacteria. This kind of fiber is known as PRE-biotic fiber. Prebiotics feed probiotics. Foods that are high in prebiotic fiber include beans, oats, bananas, asparagus, garlic, leeks and onions. Read more about the best dietary sources of immune-boosting fiber here.
Some foods, like sauerkraut, and supplements, like SmartyPants Probiotic Complete, pull double duty because they contain both probiotic bacteria and a prebiotic source of fiber for the bacteria to feed on. These twofers are known as “synbiotics."
Omega 3 EPA and DHA help regulate our immune response. These two fatty acids are also credited with supporting proper brain, retina, and nervous system development, which is especially important for growing children.*
The most bioavailable sources of DHA and EPA are wild-caught fatty fish and some types of sea algae. While it is possible to convert the omega 3 fatty acid ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) – found in vegan food sources such as flax and chia seeds – into DHA and EPA, the human body isn't very good at doing so: the rate of conversion is less than 10%. Dietary sources of EPA and DHA include caviar, wild-caught salmon, anchovies and sardines.
If these foods aren't exactly staples in your household, no worries. You can get omega 3 EPA and DHA in supplement form. We recommend looking for a brand that uses fish oil from wild-caught, sustainable, small fish such as anchovies and sardines.
Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant; some research suggests it's even more powerful than beta-carotene. It's been shown to help promote healthy arterial function and it is particularly important for men, as it supports male fertility and prostate function.* Lycopene is easy to spot in foods, as it's responsible for giving fruits and vegetables a red color. Watermelon, grapefruit, and tomatoes are excellent sources of lycopene, and, unlike some vegetables that lose nutritional value when cooked, tomatoes actually get more nutritious! Research from Cornell University shows that cooking tomatoes increases their levels of this powerful antioxidant.
Ever hear people sing the praises of a B12 shot? That's because B12 is essential for our overall well-being, from energy production to memory and brain function, making DNA and red blood cells, and producing the protective insulation around our nerves. B12 has also been shown to support the immune system and bolster mental and emotional health by producing neurotransmitters such as S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe).* Unfortunately, B12 is a vitamin that is notoriously difficult to absorb and is found almost exclusively in animal products. The best dietary sources of B12 include clams, beef liver, lamb, and oysters. If you or your children don't eat animal products, you may need to supplement to ensure you are getting adequate B12 in your diet. We recommend you work with your primary care provider to determine your needs. If you do decide you need to supplement, we recommend you look for vitamin B12 in the form of methylcobalamin. This is a form of B12 that's easily absorbed and used by the body.
PLAY (AKA STRESS MANAGEMENT)
You can have the most perfect diet on the planet, but if you're stressed out, your immune system is going to get worn down. Research shows that stress damages the immune system. Fortunately, there's a great way you can reduce your stress and get in quality time with your family, and that's play. Remember playing? When you used to run around like a wild man, without a care about proper form or falling down? That's what we're talking about. So grab your kids by the hand, bust open the back door, and get outside. You'll relieve stress, bond with your family, burn calories, and get some vitamin D all at the same time. We recommend freeze tag, kickball, touch football, and, of course, dance parties.
Sleep goes hand in hand with stress management. Sleep is the time when our bodies get to rejuvenate, and research from the University of Pennsylvania found that even short-term loss of sleep can have a significant impact on how the immune system functions. According to the National Sleep Foundation, if sleep is cut short, the body doesn't have time to complete all of the phases needed for muscle repair, memory consolidation, and release of hormones regulating growth and appetite. When we lose sleep, we wake up less prepared to concentrate, make decisions, or engage fully. In short: hangry, distracted, and crankypants.
Unfortunately, bedtime can be a bit of a trial – both for kids and many adults. We recommend making a conscious effort to start winding everybody down at least two hours before bed. This means turning off all electronics. Electronics emit blue light, or, light with blue wavelengths, which can be disruptive at night. According to research, exposure to blue light causes the brain to stop producing melatonin, a hormone that gives your body the "time to sleep" cue.
To avoid the blue light at night, we recommend switching from Kindles to good old-fashioned print books, downloading f.lux to your family's computers, and activating the Night Shift mode on iPhones. These two apps automatically adjust your displays so that they give off warmer, less blue light.
So there you have it, ten tried, true, and totally easy ways you can support your family's health. For more on how to make health a little easier and a lot more fun, check out the blog at www.smartypantsvitamins.com/blog.
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.