Fight the Flu with Nutrition

Brittany Engel
Dietary Director
Arlington Court Skilled Nursing & Rehab

According to the CDC, this winter’s flu season is one of the worst and deadliest experienced in the past decade.

Flu season usually runs from around October through May and is typically at its height in February. However, this year more and more people are getting sick earlier than in past years.

Those with underlying health problems and compromised immune systems, such as pregnant women and elderly folks, tend to be at higher risk of contracting the flu.

To help protect yourself and your family against infection, boosting your immune system with a healthy lifestyle and good nutrition is one way to help fight against sickness.

nutritionA healthy immune system is not only important to defend against harmful viruses, bacteria and other pathogens, but it also plays a crucial role in the healing process when we do get sick. Because nutrition helps support a healthy immune system, eating the right foods, especially during flu season, can help you stay well. You can start by including a variety of nutrient-dense foods in your eating plan.

Here are five ways to fight cold and flu with nutrition

  1. Hydration – The outdoor air is drier in cold weather, and our heated homes are dry. Staying hydrated with water in the winter keeps mucous membranes soft and moist, preventing tiny cracks that allow viruses and bacteria to enter. One simple rule of thumb is this: divide your weight (pounds) by two. That’s the minimum number of ounces your body needs to stay hydrated. Everyone’s specific fluid needs may differ.
  2. Plant-based foods – A diet rich in vegetables, fruit and whole grains is high in antioxidants and phytonutrients. Antioxidants are known to reduce the risk of stroke and enhance immune defense, which lowers the risk of cancer and infection. Phytonutrients are linked to increased immunity and faster healing. Aim for seven servings of fruits and vegetables and at least three servings of whole grains per day. Nutrient-packed choices include broccoli, red onion, blueberries, grapes, oats, barley and tea.
  3. Probiotics – Recent research shows probiotics (dietary supplement) boosting the immune system. The theory is healthy bacteria found in probiotics keep the gut and intestinal tract low in disease-causing germs. Yogurt is a good food source of probiotics. Over-the-counter supplements also are available.
  4. Vitamins and Minerals – Many supplements claim to reduce colds and viruses. The best supplement option is a multivitamin/mineral once per day with 100% of the recommended daily values of vitamins A, B6, B12, C and D, and minerals chromium, copper, folic acid, selenium, calcium and zinc.
  5. Exercise – Moderate physical activity is a powerful immunity booster. A 30 to 60 minute walk most days per week is considered moderate exercise. Too much or not enough exercise actually can weaken immune systems. Try dancing, walking, stationary biking, indoor swimming or similar activities to move more in the winter months.

Content source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Unfortunately there is no full proof way to prevent the cold or flu, but you can arm yourself with a hydrated body and a healthy immune system with proper diet and exercise. These are two key factors in prevention and treatment of cold and flu viruses. Flu vaccination, hand hygiene and adequate sleep are also are very important.