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 Boot 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 stress. Garlic contains selenium, an antioxidant that scavenges free radicals in the body. Selenium deficiency, which is uncommon, can make people more susceptible to disease.
Cheese and other dairy products contain conjugated linoleic acid, a natural component of dairy fat which has boosted immune response, primarily in animal studies.
Yogurt and other cultured milk products contain probiotics, beneficial bacterial that have shown potential immune-boosting benefits in human studies. 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 infections.
Vitamin C, found in citrus fruits and juices, may also help the body's immune system.
Zinc, found in meat, chicken, peanuts and peanut butter, plays an important role in the proper functioning of the immune system in the body.
Foods that Heal
Fresh ginger root can help you when you are sick by decreasing nausea and vomiting. 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 results.
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 infections.
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.