Eating to stay healthy through flu and cold season

Can what you eat help keep you healthy during cold and flu season? ADC Nutritionists weigh in with these tips.

Profile view of man looking at a bunch of radishes
As cold and flu season approaches and people around the office start sneezing, it’s a good time to think about avoiding infection. Frequent hand washing is the first line of defense against germs, but is there a way to help prevent illness by choosing the right foods to bolster your immune system?

An overall healthy lifestyle helps strengthen the immune system — which helps you get over an illness sooner.

“To protect yourself from any illness, most experts suggest the same things,” says Neelu Kohli, RD, LD, CDE, a Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator with The Austin Diagnostic Clinic (ADC). “Eat lots of fruits and veggies and whole grains. Drink plenty of water and eat lean protein like fish, which contains Omega 3 oils. Exercising, not smoking, and getting plenty of rest will also help fight illness.”

Choose colorful food

Many foods come naturally equipped with immune-boosting properties and nutrients. Neelu says foods that are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals are good choices, as these nutrients help protect your body from damage by toxins in the environment.

“Dark-colored produce like blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, cherries, spinach, kale, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli are high in flavonoids, polyphenols, and other antioxidants,” says Neelu. “Vegetables can be fresh or frozen, and you can eat them raw or cooked and still get the benefits of the antioxidants.”

Go for green tea?

There’s been a lot of talk about the immune-boosting properties of green tea, and numerous recent medical studies have suggested that the Chinese tea may do everything from helping to prevent heart disease to slowing the progression of cancer. Green tea is even finding its way into topical preparations for its reputed anti-aging properties. Green tea is popping up in many different products, from ice cream to weight loss pills. But can it help fight a cold?

“It can’t hurt to drink more fluids, and green tea ingredients are increasingly being recognized as playing roles in reducing stress, lowering cholesterol, and even having anti-tumor properties,” explains Neelu. “A warm cup of tea can be a nice way to relax, and green tea has antioxidant properties as well that will help your cells resist toxins.”

Boost immunity with garlic

Garlic is another food that has been a subject of recent medical studies, and it has shown promise as a way to lower cholesterol. It has also, in initial studies, been shown to be effective against bacteria, viruses, and fungus.

“Garlic is rich in phytonutrients, which are known for their antibiotic and antiviral properties,” says Neelu. “It’s a flavorful way to boost your immune system.”

Vitamin C?

Of course, vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is generally touted as the vitamin to take when it comes to resisting colds. Ongoing research is being conducted to determine its benefits for cold prevention, but most studies have shown no significant reduction in the risk of developing colds. The exception to this has come from a subset of people who live in extreme circumstances, including soldiers in sub-arctic climates, skiers, and marathon runners. Vitamin C seems to reduce this set of people’s risk of developing a cold by about 50 percent.

“Research doesn’t prove that vitamin C prevents colds, but both orange and lemon juices are good, inexpensive sources of antioxidants, so I say by all means use them,” suggests Neelu.

If you do get sick, taking care of yourself can shorten the duration of your cold or flu.

  1. Drink plenty of fluids;
  2. Get lots of rest;
  3. Call your doctor for recommendations;
  4. Stay home from work;
  5. Wash your hands often to prevent spreading the virus to others.

“If you do get the flu, and your symptoms include high fever and/or vomiting, call your doctor,” says Neelu. “Certain strains can be life-threatening, so it’s best to be safe.”

Many of us do get sick a few times a year, but it’s good to know the foods to choose that help our bodies maintain a strong immune system. Realizing that our diets and habits impact our health is a good first step in having an illness-free flu season.

Neelu Kohli, R.D., L.D., C.D.E.,  is a nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator at The Austin Diagnostic Clinic, a multi-specialty clinic with more than 130 physicians representing 21 medical specialties at nine locations throughout Austin and Central Texas. Visit ADC Nutition Services or call 512-901-1111.