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Healthy home schooling

How to support your children’s health during these unprecedented times

These are certainly challenging times for parents. As we are forced to stay at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, parents are now finding themselves juggling working from home, home-schooling their kids and trying to keep everyone happy and healthy. Now more than ever, youngsters need good nutrition to help support their immunity, maintain their energy levels and boost their concentration. Here, Alex Ruani, UCL Doctoral Researcher and Chief Science Educator at The Health Sciences Academy (, offers some tips for how to support your children’s health during these difficult times.

Energy management

There’s no single food that in isolation can have miraculous effects on a child’s energy, immunity, or intellectual capacity. Nutrients work synergistically, so boys and girls need a variety of foods.

When it comes to energy management, a high intake of sugary foods and drinks can give a child a sudden ‘high’, followed by an energy dip, usually associated with feeling more lethargic and having a lower capacity to concentrate. So, the best way to manage this is through glycaemic control – that is, the consumption of slow sugar-releasing foods or meals.

Therefore, instead of sugary breakfast cereals or toast with jam and butter, lower glycaemic options that help release energy more slowly and more gradually include wholegrain toast with poached eggs or peanut butter (provided there’s no allergy), steel-cut porridge oats sweetened with fresh fruit like banana or apple, and natural yogurt with berries or coconut shavings.

Learning capacity

Besides lack of concentration, a child’s learning capacity can be affected by poor memory. In addition to essential vitamins B5, B1, B12 and C, a wide range of nutritional compounds involved in memory function continue to be heavily researched, including phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylserine, dimethylaminoethanol, and pyroglutamate, which can be made by the body from nutritional precursors found in foods like eggs, soya lecithin granules and oily fish.

A deficiency in all essential amino acids that a child needs can impact not just their attention, memory, and mood, but also their immune system. Foods of animal origin like fish, chicken, eggs, yogurt, and cottage cheese provide all essential amino acids. A vegan diet is more problematic for a child in this respect. This is because, unlike animal sources of protein, plant sources of protein may not contain all of the essential amino acids individually. That’s why we need to ensure a vegan boy or girl gets all the essential amino acids from a variety of plant foods, including leafy greens, root vegetables, seeds, beans, lentils, and grains like quinoa, oats and rice.

The omega-3 family

While many parents are supplementing their children with omega-3 believing it helps with cognition, it’s worth noting that the type of omega-3 consumed matters. The omega-3 family is a big one. Some omega-3s are short-chained, and others are long-chained. Short-chain omega-3s like ALA are found in most plant foods and are abundant in flaxseeds, walnuts and chia seeds. However, the types of omega-3 the brain needs are the long-chained ones, including EPA and DHA, primarily found in animal foods like egg yolks, full-fat dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese) and oily fish. Although the body can convert the short-chain omega-3s into long-chain EPA and DHA, this conversion process is very inefficient. Therefore, foods and supplementation with EPA and DHA tend to outperform ALA. For example, a well-known large-scale study involving 4,154 children aged 6 to 16 showed a correlation between their direct intake of long-chain omega-3 (DHA) and cognitive performance, with higher test scores in both male and female children.

Additionally, the body derives a number of metabolites from EPA and DHA that have critical immune-regulatory functions. These immune-mediating metabolites derived from EPA and DHA include prostaglandins, leukotrienes, thromboxanes, maresins, protectins and resolvins. So, EPA and DHA aren’t just essential to the child’s brain, but also their developing immune system.

Top nutrients for your child’s immunity

“When trying to support your children’s immune system, there are several nutrients which are of a high importance – zinc, vitamin C, and vitamin D to name a few,” says Eleanor Isom, Clinical Nutrition Advisor and Product Consultant at BioCare (

“Zinc has a pivotal role in a healthy functioning immune system. It helps to reduce the entry of pathogens through our skin and mucus membranes (e.g. in the respiratory tract) to try to prevent infection in the first place, as well as boost the activity of our white blood cells to help us fight infection better if it comes to that. Indeed, research has shown that zinc-deficient individuals are more susceptible to infection. Our germ-fighting immune cells also need vitamin C to perform their many important tasks and they accumulate it for times of viral and bacterial invasion. Vitamin C administration has been shown to decrease the duration and symptoms of respiratory tract infections in children. Vitamin D can also reduce the prevalence of viral infection, with supplementation in school children reducing the incidence of flu by 40 per cent.

“A final and important factor to consider is gut health and, therefore, the role of probiotics. Our gut bacteria stimulate, support and enhance the maturation of the immune system. It is therefore no surprise that supplementation with probiotics has been shown to significantly reduce the occurrence and symptoms of coughs and colds and the need to use antibiotics.”

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