Flu Fighters: Foods That May Help You Stay Well

sick with fluWith a flu epidemic sweeping the country, I thought it was a great time to discuss diet and lifestyle strategies to help protect yourself.

This year’s flu virus is considered very debilitating, extremely contagious and is already responsible for several deaths. Google’s flu tracker map of the US has gone  “red” indicating intense outbreaks in every state.

First, let’s go over flu symptoms, as they are similar to cold, and it’s often hard to tell if you have a cold or flu. Influenza, or flu, is almost always associated with a high fever that lasts 2-4 days; headache; muscle aches and pains; severe fatigue; cough and congestion. You just want to get in bed and sleep and sleep when you have the flu. With a cold, you’re likely to have stuffy nose, sneezing, cough and sore throat.

Contracting the flu is more than a major nuisance, it can be life-threatening for some at-risk people. Those who may have major complications from contracting the flu include those who are 65 years or older, people with chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women, and young children. While getting a flu shot is strongly recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, there are a few diet strategies to add to your flu prevention arsenal this season.

A healthy diet and lifestyle is known to help keep the immune system on track. Several nutrients, such as iron, zinc and selenium, are essential for a healthy immune system. Flavonoids found in tea, apples, cruciferous vegetables and other plant-based foods provide immune-boosting benefits too.

Natural Flu Fighers: Here’s what you can do to help protect yourself.

flu tracker

• Wash your hands. Flu viruses often spread from when your hand touches something that has the influenza virus on it, then you touch your face. The flu virus can live for up to 2 days on objects, so keep wiping down your work space, counter tops, door handles, keyboards and faucets if someone is sick around you. If you are sick, stay away from others; coughing around others is a major way the virus spreads from person to person. Use hand sanitizers frequently until this flu season passes.

•If you feel like you’re getting sick, stay put. Don’t go to work, to the gym or anywhere else where you can infect others.

• Eat your fruits and veggies. Fruits and vegetables have the most nutrients that bolster your immune system. Cruciferous veggies—broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bok choy and kale—have specific antiviral properties that may help protect you.

• Spice up your life. Herbs and spices provide a lot of antiviral and immune-boosting properties too, so don’t be shy about adding more herbs and spices to your food.

• Get more sleep. The immune system and body repairs and recovers during sleep, so strive to get as much as you can. The recommendations are for at least 7 hours a night but 8-9 is even better.

• Have a cuppa. Tea is among the richest sources of antioxidant flavonoids that have been shown to have positive immune response.

• Get some exercise. Daily moderate activity is actually an immune booster, but working out until you’re exhausted can dampen your body’s defenses.

• Get your good bugs. Enjoy a probiotic daily in the form of a container of non-fat or low-fat yogurt.

• Avoid crowds. Until the peak flu season passes, I’m trying to steer clear of any crowded areas, which is quite easy for me living in California. (Not so much when I lived in NYC and had to take the subways every day.)

For more information, follow the guidelines on the government’s flu site, Flu.gov.

–Julie Upton, MS, RD


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