(BPT) – As we approach cold and flu season, most of us will be doing everything we can to avoid coming down with those common and often completely miserable illnesses.
Each year 5 to 20 percent of all U.S. residents will contract the flu, with the average American muddling through two to four colds annually, according to WebMD. But that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to get sick this season. Among other daily habits, the foods you choose can strengthen your immune system against illness and also reduce the severity of your symptoms if you do succumb.
‘Focus on making your immune system strong,’ advises Emily Joseph, a registered dietitian for Meijer Specialty Pharmacy. ‘That means keeping an eye on your gut health. Most people don’t realize having a strong immune system is tied to your gut health. Think of it as an extra layer of protection.’
What are some good rules of thumb for choosing foods that can help ward off cold and flu this season? Consider the following:
- Choose a diet rich in antioxidant vitamins such as beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E to help protect your cells from harmful free radicals. Try to select produce that’s purple, blue, red, orange or yellow in color, though green produce such as kale, asparagus, broccoli, snow peas, spinach and avocado can also be highly beneficial. It’s ideal to eat your produce either raw or lightly steamed for optimal health benefits. However, stir-fried is fine too. Whatever it takes to eat your veggies!
- Incorporate vitamin D foods such as cheese, egg yolks, fatty fishes and/or liver, as well as whole grains such as oats and quinoa, into your regular diet.
- Ward off invading bacteria and viruses by eating foods containing zinc such as red meat, poultry, seafood, beans, nuts, whole grains, dairy products and zinc-fortified cereals.
- Keep your gut healthier by combining probiotic foods like yogurt and kombucha with prebiotic foods such as apples, asparagus, berries and beans.
- Lean protein sources such as chicken and turkey help your body maintain muscle mass. Tip: Chicken soup can do triple duty by hydrating you, soothing your throat and building your muscles all at once.
- Too much sugar can weaken your immune system by breaking down beneficial gut bacteria.
- Keep well-hydrated by drinking unsweetened beverages.
- Contrary to popular belief, large vitamin C quantities won’t knock out a virus, since your body can only absorb a certain amount. Aim for 65 to 90 milligrams daily.
- Peppermint tea can soothe congestion, but green tea contains more antioxidants; both can be healthier than coffee.
- The expression ‘Starve a cold, feed a fever’ shouldn’t be taken literally. Though some people see the flu as a quick weight-loss tool, that loss is generally temporary.
- If you get a cold or flu while following a diet excluding certain foods, take a break until your body gets the full spectrum of nourishment it needs to heal.
- Ask your doctor before taking new supplements.
Your diet isn’t the only daily habit you should monitor if you want to avoid this season’s bugs. Doctors advise exercising regularly, getting plenty of fresh air, logging seven to eight hours of sleep nightly and managing your stress through any means that works for you, including exercise, meditation, yoga or journaling. You should also wash your hands frequently, opting for paper towels over shared hand towels when possible. And don’t forget your annual flu shot.
When it comes to offering a wide variety of produce to help keep you healthy, Meijer stores have you covered. Learn more at Meijer.com.