It's cough and cold season again... So how can your family avoid the common cold?
- Babies and children are designed to get and fight colds
- Simply ensuring your child has a healthy, balanced diet is enough
- Avoid using over the counter cold medicines
- Honey has been proven to help symptoms (but only for over one-year-olds)
Colds. If you’re anything like us, then you won’t go a week without one of the family coughing or snivelling. Then of course, it’ll go around all of you for what feels like an eternity. The whole cycle will start again when another bug comes home from nursery. So is there anything we can do about them?
‘The only way to prevent a cold would be to put yourself in isolation on another planet.’
That will be a resounding ‘no’ then. Professor Steve Turner is the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health Officer for Scotland. As a dad himself, he is sympathetic to our request for tips but is refreshingly to the point with his answer.
The truth about colds
There is no magic bullet here. Children get lots of colds and are designed to do so. The good thing is, that our bodies remember every single cold we get and we won’t get the same one again. It’s actually a good time in life to get a cold when you’re a young child, because you don’t have to battle through school exams or work while you’re feeling unwell.
Children tend to get between 5 and 10 colds each year, and during the months from September to March they may appear to be full of cold all the time. Do you remember the ‘Freshers’ Flu’ of your university days? It turns out that young children’s colds are similarly in sync with the academic year. ‘The 35th week of the year (usually the last week of August) is when the common cold season starts in Scotland – you can set your clock by it,’ says Professor Turner. ‘Similarly there is a virus called RSV which gives everyone a nasty cold and infants a nasty infection which arrives the week before Christmas.’ Oh, joy.
So is there anything we can do to keep our children well during cold-season? Professor Turner’s answer is simple:
‘Don’t expose them to cigarette smoke and make sure they eat a healthy, balanced diet.’
How can nutrition help?
Edinburgh-based health and fitness instructor David Waine runs the educational programme Lean Fit Plants Based Nutrition.
David recommends that parents try to get as many natural whole foods into their children's diet as possible, because they contain essential vitamins that the body needs for a strong immune system. These include fruits, vegetables, sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, oats, legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils), nuts or nut butters and seeds.
With all the colourful packets of processed food in the supermarkets vying for our children’s attention, reaching for a natural option might not come naturally to little ones. ‘There are so many ways to put these powerful plant foods together to make the kids actually want to eat healthily,’ says David.
‘From black bean brownies, to banana and oat pancakes. You can blend up your own chickpeas to make super tasty hummus and make awesome smoothie bowls with sprinkles of nuts and seeds.’
But don’t make a big deal about any shift you make towards healthier-eating. ‘In my experience the worst thing you can do is say, “Right kids we are going to try something healthy today”,’ advises David. ‘This is going to set you up for a hard journey and transition in my experience. I would casually adapt the meals and swap ingredients over time and then once they are eating the new foods, then you can inform them about the amazing health benefits of what they’re eating.’
There’s no escaping the fact that our lifestyle and economic status has an impact on our nutrition. In the West, more affluent families are better able to eat a diet that’s rich in vitamins and minerals. In Saudi Arabia though, the opposite is true. ‘The wealthier people are more likely to eat foods with a higher fat content and that contain polyunsaturates,’ says Professor Turner. ‘Those who are poorer consume more whole grains and nuts, which are full of the good stuff we need.’
So eating a healthy, balanced doesn’t need to break the bank. One expense you can immediately remove is vitamins of the boxed variety. ‘It can be a minefield and expensive to use multi vitamins,’ says David Waine.
‘If you have the money, then it would be a lot better to invest in a decent blender and become an expert in smoothie-making. You can pack a lot of nutrients into a smoothie and as long as you have some fruit in there with the veggies then it will taste sweet enough for picky children to enjoy.’
Child Nutrition - David's Super Food Smoothie Recipe
1 cup of blueberries,
a large handful of spinach (or 2 blocks of frozen spinach) ,
2 dates and either fresh orange juice or fortified plant milk like soya or almond. Blend until smooth and creamy.
Add 1/2 an avocado for extra fat calories and vitamins like folate, vitamin c and potassium.
Home made soup that includes kale and mushrooms can also be blended into most recipes and will give it colds a kick up the bum!
So what medicine can help coughs and colds?
You can also cross over-the-counter cold products off your shopping list. ‘You’d be better off pouring a bottle of cough syrup down the toilet than giving it to your child,’ says Professor Turner.
‘Try to look at your child’s cold from his or her perspective. Would you like to have somebody shove a pump spray up your nose while you’re trying to sleep off a cold? These products make parents feel that they’re doing something to help, but they’re really just intruding on the child’s illness. Just let them sleep or watch TV. They’ll go into hibernation for 36 hours and then they’ll be fine.’
If you do feel that you want or need to give your child something to aid their recovery from a cold, then honey for over one-year-olds can help. ‘There’s evidence that honey will lessen the burden of a child’s cold – including parental sleep disturbance - by 25%,’ reveals Professor Turner.
We very much appreciate his final titbit about our stalwart options for high temperatures: ‘When it comes to colds, if you’re wondering whether to opt for paracetamol or ibuprofen, then go for the latter,’ he advises. ‘The dosage for child paracetamol is measured against adults’ so is on the low side. But the dosage for ibuprofen is measured specifically for children, so you get more of an accurate reflection on the amount they need to really help their symptoms.’
Special thank you to contributors