The best way to prevent the flu is to get a vaccine, but there are other ways to bolster our immune system. They include:
- Getting enough sleep.
- Lowering stress.
- Increasing physical activity.
- Maintaining a healthy weight.
- Eating more whole foods rich in protein and antioxidants.
As a nutritionist, I want to focus on how what you eat can help promote a healthy immune system and either prevent the flu or lessen its severity. We know our immune system fights off bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. Eating unprocessed foods like lean meats, fish, nuts and seeds, legumes, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and healthy fats can help.
- Protein foods, lean meats, fish, nuts and legumes supply necessary nutrients for cells to fight off infection. They help rebuild the body and heal. Zinc, a mineral found in protein foods, is known to support these actions.
- Antioxidants are compounds that inhibit oxidation which can lead to cell damage. They can be vitamins or particular plant chemicals known as phytochemicals. Perhaps the best source of antioxidants is fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C is a strong antioxidant found in broccoli, red peppers, citrus fruits and kiwi. Dark greens have flavonoids, Vitamin C and Vitamin E, all strong antioxidants. Vitamin A and beta carotene are found in orange and red vegetables like pumpkin, sweet potato and carrots. You may have heard the phrase “eat the rainbow,” referring to the naturally-occurring pigments in fruit and vegetables. A bonus is that these are rich in fiber and act as a fuel for good bacteria.
- Nuts and seeds supply protein, Vitamin E and healthy fat. Snack on roasted pumpkin seeds or add pistachios to your salad. A couple teaspoons of ground flaxseeds in your morning oatmeal add an excellent source of healthy omega-3 fat too.
- Low-fat dairy like yogurt, aged cheese and kefir have protein but also good bacteria or probiotics that are important for digestive health and support a healthy immune system. They tip the balance and help keep the bad microorganisms at bay. Nondairy sources of probiotics include kimchi and kombucha tea. Adding prebiotics to your diet keep the probiotics happy and thriving because they provide a food supply. Foods with fiber like onions, garlic, asparagus, leeks and wheat bran are examples of prebiotics.
- Herbs and spices are also valuable boosters that may help decrease inflammation and shorten your flu or cold. They, too, are sources of antioxidants. Besides garlic, consider ginger. Simmer a fresh piece with rice or add it to a smoothie. Turmeric is another root known for its anti-inflammatory effect. You may find it easier to buy ground turmeric, which is tasty in tea, grain dishes and as a main ingredient in golden milk (milk, cinnamon, ginger, turmeric and a touch of honey) which you can drink warm or over ice.
- For sweetness, try combining dark chocolate, rich in the phytochemical theobromine, with your favorite berries, which are full of another phytochemical, anthocyanin. Sip on chai tea or make a smoothie with fresh fruit and chia seeds. These all help defend against flu.
Consider arming yourself with the benefits of a nutritious diet this flu season. Remember to eat these foods regularly and vary your choices to get the most diverse array of nutrients. Start with this smoothie prepared in your blender.
Carrot Mango Smoothie with Ginger
- 1 cup frozen cubed mango
- 1 cup frozen cut carrots
- 1 cup (5.3oz) low-fat Greek yogurt
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
- Honey to taste
- Sprinkle of pumpkin seeds on top (optional)
Protein: 15 grams.
Total Fat: 5 grams.
Sodium: 70 milligrams.
Total Carbohydrates: 61 grams.
Fiber: 6 grams.
Mary Noon is a registered dietitian and nutritionist at Hartford Hospital.
Want even more information and personalized advice? Make an appointment with a registered dietitian. Call us at Hartford Hospital (860.972.2604) and we can tell you how.
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