One skin condition is rife amongst children through the summer months, with high pollen counts and heat causing extra flare-ups: ECZEMA. About 15-20% of pre-schoolers are thought to suffer from atopic eczema or dermatitis, so many of us are looking for ways to cope without relying solely on topical creams. We know certain foods can cause or worsen skin conditions (common allergens include nuts, eggs, cow’s milk, soya, citrus fruits, wheat and gluten), but what foods can help heal skin affected by eczema? I spoke to Mary van der Westhuizen BCNH Dip N&H (pictured with her three daughters), nutritionist and co-founder of Lulubaby, London’s top antenatal class coordinator.
What foods are especially good for children who suffer from eczema?
“Eczema isn’t just skin deep; it is associated with a deregulated immune system (because the body is overreacting to a substance – an allergen – that
is normally harmless) and inflammation within the body (caused because the body is trying to protect itself against a particular allergen). This means that as well as needing foods that encourage the healing and renewal of skin, children with eczema also need nutritious foods that can support their immune system and combat inflammation.
Foods that nourish the skin:
1. ZINC. Child-friendly options include red meat and pumpkin seeds…children may not be so keen on other great sources of zinc such as liver and oysters! Zinc is particularly helpful for wound healing and the repair and renewal of skin. Associations have been made between zinc deficiency and eczema.
2. VITAMIN C – Strawberries, broccoli and kiwis. Vitamin C is required for the synthesis of collagen, a protein that is vital for skin elasticity.
3. OMEGA-3 FATS – Oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds can help the skin to maintain good levels of moisture which can help to control eczema.
4. ANTIOXIDANTS (including vitamins A, C, E and selenium)- Fresh fruit and vegetables. Try to give your child a variety of fruit and vegetables so that your child gets the benefits of the different nutrients that each fruit or vegetable brings. For example, orange-red vegetables such as carrots and sweet potato contain lots of betacarotene that the body can convert into vitamin A. Fish (again!), such as mackerel, is a great source of selenium, a mineral that has antioxidant properties.
Foods that help support the immune system:
We know we can help support the immune system through consumption of foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D (once again, oily
fish is a great source of this important immune-booster as well as small doses of sun). A study published earlier this year identified a reduced risk of childhood eczema where children eat fish regularly (i.e. at least twice weekly) from the age of 1.
Foods that help to combat inflammation:
We can achieve this with a diet that is high in antioxidants (see above) to counteract the damage caused by inflammation. It is also really important to eliminate any processed foods (e.g. cookies, margarine) from our children’s diets as these contain trans fats and sugars that encourage inflammation within the body. This is comfortingly easy to achieve with babies and young children…for so long as adults hold the purse strings and the shopping basket…”
What foods are especially good for children who suffer from extra dry skin
“All the foods suggested above are beneficial for any skin condition, particularly one that is related to an allergy. They are however helpful in
maintaining optimum skin health for any child.”
Please always speak to your child’s doctor about any allergy they suffer from and also check with your GP before giving them any supplements
because each child’s needs vary depending on their personal medical history.