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Star foods for coughs: apricot, broccoli, brown rice, cabbage, carrot, cinnamon, courgette, fennel, garlic, ginger, honey, horseradish, leek, lemon, lettuce, lime, mango, manuka honey, onion, orange, papaya, parsley, pumpkin, sweet potato, thyme

Coughs are among the most common childhood ailments your child is likely to encounter. They are most prevalent in the winter months and often accompany colds, which help to prime and strengthen young immune systems. Coughing is an involuntary mechanism designed to clear your child's airways of dust, bacteria, viruses and other unwanted substances. A cough can be caused by viral or bacterial infections or by environmental allergens such as dust, pollen or cigarette smoke. Persistent coughs need medical attention, as they may be a symptom of a more serious disease.

A cough that is accompanied by wheezing and difficulty breathing is most likely to be caused by asthma. A “barking” cough that sounds like a seal and is worse at night could be croup, an inflammation of the throat that can cause difficulty in breathing.

A persistent cough that is accompanied by a fever and difficulty breathing could be caused by bronchitis, bronchiolitis or even pneumonia. If you suspect that your child may be suffering from any of these ailments, seek medical attention immediately.

If the cough is worse at night then it is important to elevate your child's head by propping her up with extra pillows. In the case of a baby, place a pillow or folded blanket underneath her mattress to raise her up. Lying flat makes the cough much worse. Coughs are also often exacerbated by dry air. At night, put a bowl of boiling water (out of reach) containing a few drops of lavender and eucalyptus essential oils in your child's room. This will help to ease the breathing, especially if the nose and chest are congested with mucus. For croup and recurrent chest infections, an electric humidifier will also help to provide relief from the symptoms.

Medicinal foods for coughs
If the cough accompanies a cold, there are dietary strategies that you can follow to help your child combat the viral infection and ease the symptoms. Cold viruses often stimulate an over-production of mucus that leaves your child feeling “blocked up” and uncomfortable. To avoid making this worse, eliminate mucus-forming foods, especially dairy products, from their diet. This includes milk, cream, yoghurt, ice cream and cheese. Other foods that tend to increase mucus production and are therefore best avoided include egg, fried foods, red meat and foods containing sugar or excessive salt.

Foods that help to break down mucus are citrus fruits, garlic and onion, celery, parsley, chicken broth, chilli peppers, watercress, horseradish and green tea. Offer your child a hot toddy of lemon and honey and prepare an immune-boosting chicken broth to aid the healing process. Encourage her to drink plenty of fluids as this helps to thin the mucus, which in turn makes it easier to cough up. Make fresh juices from fruits and vegetables that are full of antioxidants, which will help your child to fight the infection. If your child's throat is very sore offer antioxidant-rich ice pops, which will help to soothe and anaesthetize the throat. Blackcurrants and strawberries are especially rich in antioxidant vitamins and phytonutrients and make absolutely delicious ice pops.

Include plenty of vitamin C and beta-carotene in your child's diet if she is suffering from a cough, as these are key antioxidants and will help her immune cells to fight the infection. Foods that are particularly good sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, peppers and kiwi fruit. As well as having antioxidant properties, vitamin C is anti-inflammatory and therefore very useful when treating an inflamed and sore upper respiratory tract. It can also boost the production of interferon, an antiviral agent that enhances the ability of the respiratory tract to ward off viruses.

Beta-carotene is the plant-based form of vitamin A and is needed to protect the mucous membranes. Vitamin A is also found in animal-based foods, such as eggs and liver, but as these tend to be mucus forming, it is far better to prepare your child dishes that include good sources of beta-carotene. Fruits and vegetables rich in beta-carotene are brightly coloured and include carrots, sweet potatoes and green leafy vegetables.

Foods rich in zinc are also important in the fight against respiratory infection. Research has shown that zinc can cut the occurrence of acute respiratory infections by almost half. Good sources are poultry, game, seeds, nuts, seafood and wholegrains.

Avoid sugary foods, which are immune-suppressive, and refined foods such as white flour and white rice. These foods have had important nutrients stripped out of them during the refining process and may simply serve to fill up your child without supplying her with any of the nutrients that can help to aid her recovery.

Warming herbs and spices can be soothing and effective for coughs. Garlic and thyme have excellent antiviral and antibacterial properties. Ginger, cloves and cinnamon all have expectorant qualities that help to expel the mucus. Thyme and honey tea can be comforting and calming to a tickly cough. Manuka (tea tree) honey is a particularly good addition as it contains natural antibiotic properties.


Extracted from Immunity Foods for Healthy Kids by Lucy Burney, text © 2004, published by Duncan Baird Publishers, London.


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