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Going back to school is an exciting time for kids and parents alike, but also signals the start of cold and flu season. Add in a global pandemic and parents are left wondering what they can do to keep their kids healthy and safe. Along with promoting good personal hygiene, restful sleep, and regular physical activity, there are several nutrients that can help support your child's immune system and send them into the classroom ready to learn.

Zinc

Zinc is needed for the proper development and functioning of cells involved in our immune system. This mineral also acts as an antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties to boot. It is most abundant in animal products but can be found in plant foods as well:

  • Oysters
  • Shrimp
  • Crab
  • Lean meats
  • Poultry
  • Legumes
  • Nuts & seeds

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is also involved in the development of the immune cells and helps to regulate the body's immune response. There are two different times of vitamin A, preformed vitamin A (retinol) found in animal products, and provitamin A (carotenoids) found in plants. Sources include:

  • Liver
  • Kidneys
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products
  • Carrots
  • Yams
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Bell peppers

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an important nutrient for the growth and repair of tissues throughout the body. It helps with wound healing and there is some evidence that it can help to shorten the duration of the common cold. Vitamin C also helps with the absorption of iron, another nutrient important for a healthy immune system, and is found in:

  • Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and grapefruit
  • Strawberries
  • Kale
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Bell peppers

Vitamin E

Vitamin E helps to support the growth of immune cells and acts as a powerful antioxidant. It is primarily found in fatty plant foods such as:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Avocado
  • Peanuts
  • Sunflower and soybean oil

It can also be found in other plant foods including:

  • Pumpkin
  • Collard greens
  • Asparagus
  • Mango

Iron

Iron carries oxygen to cells and is an essential mineral for the development of immune cells. It comes in two forms: heme iron, the easiest for our bodies to absorb, and non-heme iron, which is more difficult to absorb. Iron is found primarily in animal foods (as heme iron) such as:

  • Red meat
  • Poultry
  • Oysters
  • Clams
  • Canned tuna

It can also be found in vegetarian foods (as non-heme iron) such as:

  • Beans and legumes
  • Spinach
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Tofu

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