NORMAN — Q: How can I stay healthy during cold and flu season?
A: Flu season typically starts in the fall and can wreak havoc during January and February. It can last as late as springtime, so it is good to be mindful not only of hygiene but also of nutrition during a large portion of the year.
A healthy immune system helps support resistance to infection and can even shorten the duration of a cold or the flu.
Of course, when you are already sick, nutrition remains very important but can be challenging while you are feeling under the weather.
Immune-boosting nutrition is all about making your plate colorful because deeply hued fruits and vegetables contain high levels of vitamins. The antioxidants, vitamins A, C and E, are especially important to fight infection, as they work to keep organ tissues, the body’s cells and skin healthy. They stimulate the formation of antibodies and aid with wound healing.
Protein and zinc take part in the body’s defense as well and also promote wound healing. These powerful nutrients are beneficial on so many levels aside from immune support, so they are worthy of including in your diet yearround.
Foods rich in vitamins A and C include intensely colored vegetables and fruits such as citrus fruits, berries, bell peppers, spinach greens, pumpkin, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes and sweet potatoes. Animal sources of vitamin A are dairy products like milk, cheese and eggs. Vitamin E is found in sunflower, safflower, olive and other vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and leafy green vegetables.
Zinc, like protein, can be found mainly in animal sources such as red meat, poultry, seafood and dairy foods: milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs and certain cheeses. Non-animal sources include beans, nuts and fortified grain products like breads and cereals. These foods also contain a rich supply of selenium, which supports the immune system, as well.
Here are some tips for immune supporting nutrition, especially during cold and flu season:
· With each meal, aim to fill half of your plate with nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables. During the winter months, opt for what is in season or buy frozen at the grocery store. Choose side salads, vegetables or fruit cups at restaurants more often as a side dish.
· Soups can be packed with not only vegetables, but beans and meats. You can make your own and it can last for a few days, or you can freeze the leftovers. On busy days or when you are sick, you can easily thaw and reheat to have an easy meal that will keep you warm.
· Have healthy snacks on hand. Prepare them ahead of time and portion them out so you can just grab and go. Make your own oil and vinegar salad dressings to enjoy with salads, raw vegetables or as a marinade.
· Allow yourself to enjoy treats during the holiday season, but aim to turn them into small sample sizes so you don’t feel too guilty after the fact. Skipping meals to enjoy a holiday party may cause you to eat more than you intended. When you know you will be faced with tempting but less healthy options, make it a goal that day to incorporate more nutritious foods.
For nutritional counseling, Norman Regional Health System offers the guidance of registered dietitians.
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