A STRONG DEFENSE
When cold and flu season comes around, many people head to their medicine cabinets in search of relief. But a trip to the kitchen may be a smarter move.
Nutrition plays an important role in maintaining immune function. Insufficiency in one or more essential nutrients may prevent the immune system from functioning at its peak. The immune system consists of a finely orchestrated, complex collection of tissues and cells that protect your body from allergens, bacteria, viruses, and other potentially harmful organisms.
According to Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale Prevention Research Center in New Haven, CT, "There is no question the immune system fundamentally is influenced by overall health - and a balanced diet is key." Given the complexity of the immune system, there isn't one specific food that will magically make you repel cold germs and flu viruses. Instead, eating a healthful, balanced diet is your best investment in immunity.
1) Fill your plate with fruits and vegetables - the vitamins (especially A and C) and the phytochemicals promote immune function. Eat 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. To maximize the variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, aim to consume 2 different colors of vegetables and fruit with each meal.
2) Focus on healthful fats - High-fat diets appear to impair the immune system. Reducing fat can boost immune function. However, the type of fat is equally important as the amount. Trans fats can contribute to chronic low-grade inflammation in the body. Limit total fat to 30 percent of your total caloric intake. Look for sources of unsaturated fats such as canola oil, olive oil, nuts, and avocados. Also increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids (from fatty fish like salmon) which help fight inflammation.
3) Choose lean protein sources - The amino acids that are found in protein form the building blocks of all the body's cells - including the cells that power your immune system. You should consume between 0.8 - 1.0 gm per kilogram of your body weight (that means if you weigh 130 pounds, you should eat 47 gm of protein per day). Quality counts, too: choose 3 to 4 ounce portions of lean protein such as fish, seafood, poultry, eggs, lentils, beans and soy products.
4) Make time for tea - Green tea is a source of an antioxidant that may help reduce the replication of the flu virus. Trade at least one cup of coffee each day for green tea and let your teabag steep for at least 3 minutes in hot water.
5) Maintain a proper energy balance - Eat enough - not too many or too few - calories per day. There is considerable evidence that crash dieting, anorexia can increase a person's susceptibility to infections. Over-consumption can also have harmful effects on the immune system. To find the proper number of calories you need, go to www.mypyramid.gov which makes recommendations based on age, gender and activity level.
6) Take the one supplement that works - While most researchers pan most supplements (large doses of vitamin C, garlic, ginseng, zinc), they all agree that a multivitamin is well worth taking. If you have marginal deficiency of certain nutrients (B vitamins, A, C, E, selenium, iron and zinc), your immune system's function could be impaired. Choose a multivitamin specifically formulated for your gender or age. And look for the United States Pharmacopeia seal to let you know that certain standards have been met and proven.
7) Consume friendly bacteria - A carton of yogurt per day might help keep infections at bay. That is because it contains certain bacteria (called probiotics) that stimulate immunity cells in the gastrointestinal tract. Look for yogurt that contains "Live active cultures," indicating helpful bacteria.