Use Nutrition to Fight the Flu

2020 has absolutely flown by and winter will be here before we know it. It is exciting to think of the holiday fun that comes in the last quarter of the year. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanza are just a few. While it is easy to become excited over the holidays around the corner, most know that flu season comes with the cold weather. Unfortunately, flu season doesn’t take a break amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. It is therefore more important than ever to beef up your immune system. We have a few tips on how to do that! (Hint: it doesn’t mean Emergen-C or Airborne…)

Adequate nutrition is essential to fuel the cells in our body. This includes the cells of our immune system. Fueling your body with healthy and nutrient dense foods can and will ensure your immune system is running optimally. Products like Emergen-C and Airborne advertise crazy amounts of Vitamin C and zinc. These are both two components that are key in immune function. However, research has shown that consuming either of these products after catching a cold does not improve healing time.

The best approach to dodging a cold or the flu is to get your immune system fired up before a cold/the flu can attack! This means keeping your body stocked with vitamins and minerals throughout the year. And how do we do that? With fruits and veggies, of course! Yes, you can take a multivitamin (it might not be a bad idea), but vitamins and minerals are best in their most bioavailable form. This means that our body MUCH prefers vitamins and minerals that come from whole foods.

So, get ahead of the game and stack the odds in your favor. Not sure where to start? Grab your plate and bowl and load it up with some whole grains. Quinoa, brown rice and corn tortillas are examples. Whole grains offer an array of vitamins AND minerals as well as protein and fiber. Yay! After your grains, toss in some protein. This could be chicken, tofu, yogurt or nut butter. Protein works in our immune system to serve as the building blocks for new tissue. This means that the scrape on your kiddo’s knee is going to need protein (from our diet) to heal. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, add some color to your plate with fruits and veggies. You can’t go wrong here but the more color, the better. Spinach is high in calcium and vitamin K. Oranges and strawberries have vitamin C. Eggs, carrots, apricots and bell peppers provide vitamin A. These are all important worker bees in our immune system!

Lastly, be sure to keep washing your hands, especially before eating. Try to get a good night’s sleep each night and stay physically active. A well rested and exercised body is one that can fight off the flu! Keep your family safe this flu season!

– Article by Kyler Heitman, Atascadero State Hospital Dietetic Intern
– Photo by Sara Sanders, Food Photography Volunteer