It’s that time of year again—cold and flu season is upon us, and let’s not even talk about COVID—so here’s my annual PSA about how you can increase your chances of staying healthy by eating right.
By keeping our immune system strong, we can help our bodies fight off bugs before they get us down. But before we talk about food, let’s talk about what you’re putting the food into: your body.
Imagine that your body is a vehicle, and the immune-boosting food I’m about to recommend is the gas, SUPER-PREMIUM GAS, to be exact. Are you putting super premium gas into a clunker? I hope not. Make sure YOU aren’t a clunker, by maintaining a healthy weight, getting enough sleep, and exercising most days each week. These healthy habits set your immune system up for success when viruses are spreading.
Here’s your SUPER-PREMIUM GAS mix:
Vitamin C is well known for helping prevent and shorten the duration of the common cold. It’s found in many foods, so it’s likely you don’t need a supplement. Get it in all citrus fruits, greens like kale and spinach. Red bell peppers actually provide three times as much vitamin C as an orange! Aim for 100 mg/day, and don’t go over 2,000 mg.
Vitamin D is especially important for us here in the north, when our hours of sunlight each day get decreased. Of all the vitamins mentioned here, this is one most individuals need to supplement, if only during the winter months. Vit D helps keep our immune system strong. Find it in salmon, tuna and yogurt, as well as fortified milks, orange juices and cereals. If supplementing, aim for 1,000-4,000 IU daily.
Vitamin A is an antioxidant that helps fight off infections. Find it in tuna and orange veggies (like butternut squash, carrots and pumpkin), which are high in beta-carotene. Additionally, cooked spinach is a source of Vit A as well. Recommended amount of Vit A is 700 and 900 mcg/day for women and men, respectively.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps your body fight off infections. Good sources of Vit E include almonds, nut butters and sunflower oil. Aim for 15 mg/day.
Zinc is needed for the production of new immune system cells. Find it in meat, poultry, yogurt and chickpeas. Consider taking a 50 mg supplement this time of year, especially if you do not consume meat.
Lastly, here is a handful of common ‘flu-fighters’ to keep in your back pocket: garlic, ginger, turmeric and honey. They all have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and help fight infection. Honey actually helps prevent virus cells from multiplying! Add garlic and ginger to your chicken noodle soup (I did, just this week!), and turmeric is a great addition to a morning smoothie when you’re feeling under the weather. We all know how great a cup of tea—with a little honey—feels on a sore throat.
While food sources of vitamins and minerals are always best, it’s not a bad idea to keep some of these on hand in supplement form. They are most effective at preventing and/or shortening the length of a cold when used at the very first signs of infection.
So, here’s to having a road-worthy vehicle filled with super-premium gas this winter!