How Your Diet Can Help You During Cold and Flu Season

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

Did you know that, according to the CDC, an estimated 5% to 20% of the U.S. population gets the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal flu-related complications each year? Well, the odds might not be in your favor, and just because we can’t predict what the future of this year’s flu season will hold, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be prepared.

According to Janet Little, Nutritionist from Sprouts Farmer’s Market, the right diet can help boost immunity and shorten the duration of the cold and flu. Interested in specifics, we asked Little for some insight on how to best prepare ourselves, and here’s what she had to say.

What are the best foods to eat to avoid getting the flu, and why?

Squashes, sweet potatoes and pumpkins: Vitamin A and beta-carotene rich, they stimulate and enhance immune function. 

Garlic: Garlic’s sulfur-containing compound called allicin functions as an antibacterial and antiviral agent. Eating garlic can also boost t-cells, which fight viruses. Studies have shown that by taking aged garlic extract, you can reduce the severity of cold and flu symptoms.

Spinach and broccoli: Vitamin E-rich, they also enhance T-cell activity.

Apples and pears: Their soluble fiber changes the personality of immune cells — they go from being unhealthy pro-inflammatory cells to healing anti-inflammatory cells that help us recover faster from infection.

Citrus: Citrus, including lemons, limes, grapefruits and oranges, is a tasty way to load up on vitamin C. They also contain hesperidin, which can help reduce inflammation and improve circulation.

Chicken soup: Scientists have confirmed that the ingredients in chicken soup help increase neutrophils activity – your white blood cells that destroy harmful bacteria and help the body’s immune system to fight colds and flu.

Yogurt with live active cultures: The probiotics in yogurt add good bacteria to your gut, which helps with digestion and reduces inflammation. This is particularly important if you are sick and are taking antibiotics, which kill not only the bad bugs but the good bugs in your gut. Plain yogurt sweetened with chunks of fresh fruit is best to avoid.

Peppers: Packed with B vitamins, vitamin C and immune-boosting carotenoids, peppers give your plate a punch of color and offer you antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Tea: Drinking green, black or white tea will not only keep you hydrated, but may also prime your immune system to fight off illness. Plus, the antioxidants and flavonoids in tea support overall well-being.

Water: Aim for about 64 ounces each day. Drinking fluids can help wash away toxins and germs, prevent dehydration, loosen mucus and lessen the chance of catching a bug.

What foods should be avoided this flu season?

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

Sweets: Sugar can suppress the immune system. Watch your sugar intake in both foods and beverages.

White breads: Like sugar, white breads have a similar negative effect on the immune system and should be avoided.

Processed foods: They are laden with empty calories. Now more than ever, your diet should be filled with things that are beneficial to your body.

What vitamins and supplements do you recommend for avoiding the flu or treating symptoms this season?

Echinacea: Take this before the cold and flu season hits. Studies show it can support your immune function by helping to stimulate white blood cells. Echinacea helps the body produce more germ-eating cells called macrophages, which protect your body’s immune system by searching out and destroying common cold and flu viruses and bacteria.

Elderberry: This is high in antioxidants and can help dissipate icky symptoms, which is the first step to regaining health and feeling better. Recent studies found that elderberry contains immune-enhancing properties to help ease flu symptoms like fever, headache, fatigue, sore throat and body aches. Elderberries are the most concentrated source of two antioxidants: Quercetin and anthocyanins. These powerful antioxidants enhance the body’s immune response by increasing the production of cytokines. Cytokines are the immune system’s messengers, helping to regulate the body’s response to disease, inflammation and infection. The high antioxidant activity in elderberries neutralizes harmful free radical and protects the body against illness and diseases.

Ginger: Sipping on warm ginger or cinnamon teas is also helpful with the cold and flu. The warmth of both spices comforts the body and the hot liquid can help loosen up congestion. Ginger has been shown to support digestion, allowing the body to better absorb some key nutrients. Cinnamon warms up the body by increasing circulation, which helps ward off aches and pains.

More from Health & Fitness Cheat Sheet: