Healthy Eating During Cold and Flu Season
As the weather becomes colder and we stay indoors more, people often catch colds or other viruses. The cold and flu season can begin as early as October and usually ends sometime in April. While there is no way to cure the common cold or the flu, healthy eating during cold and flu season can help you avoid getting sick.
By eating a variety of foods from all food groups, you can ensure you're getting the vitamins, minerals and macronutrients your body needs to support your immune system and better ward off colds or the flu. Researchers are investigating eating patterns and individual food components to determine what can best protect us from illness during this season.
Foods that may Boost the Immune System
Researchers are finding positive links between immune function and components in food. If you or your kids seem to get one cold after another, try including some of these foods in your meals and snacks.
Garlic may boost your immune system, increasing resistance to infection and stress1. Garlic contains selenium, an antioxidant that scavenges free radicals in the body. Selenium deficiency, which is uncommon, can make people more susceptible to disease2.
Cheese and other dairy products contain conjugated linoleic acid, a natural component of dairy fat which has boosted immune response, primarily in animal studies3.
Yogurt and other cultured milk products contain probiotics, beneficial bacterial that have shown potential immune-boosting benefits in human studies4. Look for the "live active culture" seal, which indicates that probiotics have been added.
Also, check milk product labels for vitamin D. Early research suggests low levels of vitamin D may be linked to a seasonal increase in colds and flu and a higher incidence of respiratory infections5.
Vitamin C, found in citrus fruits and juices, may also help the body's immune system6.
Zinc, found in meat, chicken, peanuts and peanut butter, plays an important role in the proper functioning of the immune system in the body7.
Foods that Heal
Fresh ginger root can help you when you are sick by decreasing nausea and vomiting8. Make ginger tea by grating one ounce of fresh ginger in a pint of water. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add lemon and honey to taste.
Chicken soup, long known as a cold remedy, is likely effective because it contains any number of the above foods and their accompanying vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The wonderful aroma and cozy warmth can't hurt, either.
Keeping the Germs Away
The most important thing you can do to keep from getting sick is to wash your hands. A common way to catch a cold is by rubbing your nose or eyes, so to protect against infection wash your hands frequently.
Your hands pick up germs from other people or from contaminated surfaces and hand washing prevents you from infecting yourself with the germs. Use warm water, soap and wash for several minutes for best results9.
Other good health practices are not sharing cups, or silverware and cleaning high-contact items, such as doorknobs, faucets and telephones, with soap and water.
Boost Your Immune System
Even when your hands are clean, staying healthy means more than simply avoiding germs. Healthy bodies have an easier time fighting off infection. To stay healthy and boost your immune system:
- Get plenty of rest
- Eat a well-balanced diet
- Exercise regularly
- Decrease stress
- Cut back on unhealthy habits, such as smoking and over consuming alcohol
Some studies have shown that a session of moderate physical activity produces positive effects on the immune system. Over time, this means catching fewer colds and other upper respiratory tract infections9.
For most of us getting sick is a part of life. If you do catch a cold or the flu, the following advice still holds true.
To feel better while you are sick:
- Drink lots of fluids and get plenty of rest
- Use a humidifier - to moisten mucus membranes
- Add immune-boosting foods to your shopping list this flu season.
When you are sick, stay home so you don't infect others. If you do go out and need to sneeze or cough, use a tissue or sneeze or cough into your sleeve or upper arm. Don't do it into your hand, since you can spread the virus to others by touching people or handling objects that others may use.
This information is not a substitute for a physician's advice or your own good judgment. If you are feeling truly awful, or your symptoms worsen or last a long time, it is always wise to contact a physician.
1. Tingg U. Selenium: its role as antioxidant in human health. Environ Health Prev Med. 2008 Mar;13(2):102-108.
2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health Website. Washington D.C. Selenium. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Selenium-HealthProfessional/ Accessed March 25, 2015.
3. O'Shea M, Bassaganva-Riera J, Mohede IC. Immunomodulatory properties of conjugated linoleic acid. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Jun;79(6 Suppl): 1199S-1206S.
4. Tolo R, Suarez A, Clemente MG, et al. Intestinal microbiota in health and disease: Role of bifidobacteria in gut homeostasis. World J Gastroenterol. 2014; 20(41): 15163-15176.
5. Watkins RR, Lemonovich TL, Salata RA. An update on the association of vitamin D deficiency with common infectious diseases. Can J Physio Pharmacol. 2015 Jan 26:1-6.
6. Sorice A, Guerriero E, Capone F, et al. Ascorbic acid: its role in immune system and chronic inflammation diseases. Min Rev Med Chem. 2014 May:14(5):444-52.
7. Shankar AH, Prsda AS. Zinc and immune function: the biological basis of altered resistance to infection. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998:68(suppl):447-63S.
8. Palatty PL, Haniadka R, Valder B, Arora R, Baliga MS. Ginger in the prevention of nausea and vomiting: a review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2013:53(7):659-69.
9. Allan GM, Arroll B. Prevention and treatment of the common cold: making sense of the evidence. CMAJ. 2014 Feb 18;186(3): 190-199.