Can what you eat really help fight the flu and colds?
Absolutely. This is the season to be serious about getting nine fruits and vegetables a day, so you have an arsenal of antioxidants in your system. It’s a myth that you get a cold from temperature changes. We get sick because of a weakened immune system, and by touching something with flu and cold germs — whether that’s someone’s hand or a doorknob.
One of the causes that may weaken the immune system is a poor diet. A well-balanced diet — and in particular, foods that provide zinc, vitamin A, antioxidants and probiotics — can give your immune system a needed boost during the peak flu and cold season.
Here are several foods to keep your immunity working in top condition this winter. And if you do happen to get a cold or flu, remember what Mom said: “Cough on your cuff, sneeze on your sleeve and wash your hands, please.”
Zinc. Good food sources include lean beef, pork, poultry, fortified cereals and whole grains.
- Zinc deficiency is common in adult women and vegetarians.
- Studies show that even a mild deficiency in zinc can increase the risk of infection.
- The form of zinc found in meat is absorbed better by the body, plus it increases the absorption of zinc from other foods when eaten at the same time.
Vitamin A. Fruits and vegetables that are good sources include sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, winter squash, cantaloupe, apricots, spinach and broccoli.
- Our bodies convert beta-carotene from food into vitamin A, which helps maintain a healthy immune system and keep our skin healthy.
- Fruits and vegetables with a deep orange or green color are good sources of beta-carotene.
Catechins. Black tea and dark chocolate are sources of catechins.
- Catechins are antioxidants that are thought to help maintain the immune system.
- Try substituting a hot cup of tea for one of your cups of coffee to get more antioxidants in your diet.
Probiotics. Yogurt and kefir, which is fermented milk, have probiotics in them.
- Probiotics are friendly bacteria added to yogurt that help enhance our immune system.
- Look for “live and active cultures” on the yogurt label to be sure it contains probiotics.
Vitamin C. Vitamin C may not cure the common cold, nor will it prevent the flu. However, once you get sick, vitamin C may shorten the duration and decrease the severity of cold and flu symptoms.
- Begin at breakfast with a glass of orange juice, a bowl of strawberries or half a grapefruit.
Here’s a recipe, full of antioxidants, to help boost your immune system this winter, providing 70% of your daily vitamin C, 20% of your daily vitamin A and 20% of daily iron.
Hearty Stuffed Pepper Soup
2 pounds lean ground beef
½ cup onion, diced
2 green bell peppers, chopped
1 can (29-ounce) no-salt-added tomato sauce
2 cans (14.5-ounce each) no-salt-added diced Italian tomatoes
2 teaspoons instant beef bouillon granules
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 cups cooked brown rice
In a Dutch oven, brown ground beef with onion over medium heat. Drain. In the same Dutch oven, combine the cooked beef and onion, peppers, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, bouillon, sugar, black pepper and soy sauce. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes. Stir in rice and heat through. Serves 10.
Per serving: 260 calories, 22 grams protein, 25 grams carbohydrate, 8 grams fat, 35 milligrams cholesterol, 2 grams fiber
Fargo is a dietitian for Hy-Vee in Springfield, Ill. Send recipe ideas to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.