Q. How can I keep my kids from getting sick this year?
A. In my office, 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 get more of what I call the “Five S’s”:
- Seafood (especially salmon)
- Smoothies (with yogurt and fruit)
- Supplements (especially omega-3 supplements)
The best supplements for kids, with a lot of scientific documentation, are omega-3s. In America, kids are not typically fish eaters. For most school-age children, I recommend 500 mg per day of omega-3 DHA/EPA. Use omega-3s from a marine source; this is important because some manufacturers will label their products as fortified with omega-3s, but they often use canola oil as a source, which is cheaper than marine-sourced omega-3s. EPA/DHA is only found in seafood, and it is these two that the heart, brain, skin, and all organs use. The brain especially likes these because of their long-chain fatty acids, and uses them to build tissue. Vegetable oil sources are shorter-chain, so the body has to add on to them so the brain will like 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 pack a lot of nutrition—for example, salmon, eggs, nut butters, yogurt (preferably Greek yogurt), beans, and tofu.
The brain, above all organs in the body, is most affected by what you eat. The brain is 60% fat, and grows fastest in the first five years. If you put junk food into the brain, you get back junk behavior and junk learning. This is what I call Nutritional Deficit Disorder.
Kids are snackers. A child’s tummy is the size of their fist, so you should follow “Dr. Bill’s Rule of 2s”: Eat twice as often, half as much, and chew twice as long. Let kids nibble—that’s important. 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 like omega-3s, the brain needs healthy carbohydrates (such as whole grains) and good sugars (like that found in fruit). I tell kids that good sugar has two friends—fiber and protein—to keep the sugar from rushing into the bloodstream. [For example, peanut butter and an apple.] Bad sugar has no friends—it plays alone.
Snacks should be high in protein and fiber because you want a child to be satisfied, and have no artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, or artificial fats. I developed my line of Cool Fuel snacks and supplements for kids [including Dr. Sears Family Essentials] with this in mind.
Meet Our Expert
Dr. Bill Sears, MD, is the father of eight children as well as the author of over 30 books on childcare, including The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood. Sears
is an associate clinical professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine. He received his pediatric training at Harvard Medical School’s Children’s Hospital in Boston and The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, where he served as associate ward chief of the newborn nursery and associate professor of pediatrics. Dr. Sears is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and a fellow of the Royal College of Pediatricians (RCP).