Top food picks for the flu season
Scientists and nutrition experts know that nutrient-rich foods filled with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants assist in keeping the immune system in tip-top shape. On the other hand, diets high in saturated fat and processed food may hamper the body’s immune system.
Wendy Bazilian, a doctor of public health and registered dietitian, recommends loading up on a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables, not only during the flu season, but year-round. “Phytonutrients from plants are key to our immune system and keeping our energy revved,” she says. “Intensely coloured fruits and vegetables tend to have the highest levels of antioxidants and nutrients to protect healthy cells and increase the cells that help fight infection and inflammation.”
Here are Bazilian’s top food picks for maintaining good health throughout the flu season.
Along with other bright orange vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, squash and carrots, pumpkin is loaded with beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant that helps build the body’s defense-system cells, Bazilian says. Easy-to-use canned pumpkin is one of the few canned vegetables full of fibre and low in sodium. It makes a great base for soups and side dishes. Aim to include bright orange vegetables in meals at least two or three times per week.
One medium kiwi supplies more than a full day’s worth of vitamin C, packing even more than an orange, cup for cup. Other vitamin C-rich foods include red bell peppers, kale and broccoli. Include 1 to 2 vitamin C-rich servings daily.
“Poultry and beans are associated with enhanced immunity,” Bazilian says. “Each is a good source of protein, zinc and iron, which are nutrients important for an effective immune response.”
Keep protein sources lean by removing the skin from chicken and turkey, choosing lean cuts of beef like round, sirloin and flank steak, and cooking beans and shellfish with minimal fat. In general, healthy adults should include 5 to 7 ounces of cooked meat, poultry or fish, or about 1 to 2 cups of cooked dry beans in daily menus.
Yogurt and kefir
Research suggests that foods and drinks containing probiotics, or live bacteria, can treat and prevent some ailments and help bolster our immune system. Both yogurt and kefir, which is a fermented beverage similar to thin yogurt, are often rich in live bacteria. In some foods, the bacteria doesn’t survive processing, so read the labels to make sure the products contain live and active cultures. The amount you need to get a health benefit is specific to each type of bacteria; however, including low-fat or fat-free yogurt and kefir as a snack or side several times a week is a smart choice.
During winter months, most people don’t get enough of the so-called sunshine vitamin. Because vitamin D is essential to immune health, it’s important to seek out other sources, such as fortified milk, cereal and juice, as well as salmon, tuna and egg yolks. Include 2 to 3 servings of vitamin D-rich foods daily.
The bottom line
Above all, heed the advice of healthcare professionals and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Get a flu vaccine if you haven’t already. Wash hands frequently or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Drink plenty of fluids. And aim for 8 hours of sleep each night. With any luck, you’ll keep that flu bug away.
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