Fighting Flu with a Fork
You can take more steps than hand washing and getting enough sleep to fight off the flu. Eating a balanced diet will also boost your immune system to resist flu viruses.
Micronutrients that help our immune system include antioxidants, such as vitamin A, vitamin C and zinc. Foods with anti-inflammatory properties also help immune function because chronic inflammation can weaken and disrupt your immune system.
The ABCs of Vitamins
- Vitamin A: Vitamin A helps keep our skin healthy. Skin is our first line of defense against bacteria and viruses. Foods high in vitamin A are usually orange. Carrots, sweet potatoes, mangoes, cantaloupe, apricots and pumpkin are good sources of vitamin A.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an antioxidant that aids our immune system. It protects our cells from damage by destroying free radicals that hurt DNA and accelerate aging. The daily value (DV) for vitamin C is 60 mg per day. The effectiveness of “mega” doses – or amounts far in excess of the DV of vitamin C, is still under debate.
Consuming extra vitamin C during an illness may decrease its severity and duration. Because your body doesn't produce or store it, you need daily vitamin C for good health. To help resist the flu, include vitamin C rich foods, such as oranges, lemons, grapefruit, kiwi fruit, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and sweet peppers in your diet.
- Zinc: Zinc helps us make white blood cells that fight off foreign bacteria and viruses. Zinc deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in American adults, so it is a good idea to be mindful of consuming zinc-rich foods. Good food sources of zinc include beef, turkey, chicken, nuts, beans and yogurt.
More Flu-Fighting Foods
Besides being a good source of zinc, yogurt also contains active live cultures, or probiotics, which strengthen the immune system, help prevent infection and regulate the body’s inflammatory response.
Look for yogurts that have "live and active cultures" printed on the label. Choose plain yogurts, rather than flavored because these contain excess sugars. You can sweeten plain yogurt with vitamin-rich fruits instead.
The body uses more fluid when fighting colds and flu. Try to drink at least 64 ounces of fluid each day. All fluids count towards your goal. Avoid sweetened beverages when hydrating because a high sugar intake increases inflammation, weakening the immune system.
Chicken soup is another liquid that may keep you hydrated to help fight flu and ease its symptoms. The hot, steamy broth has a mild anti-inflammatory effect that can sooth a sore throat, thin secretions and help open respiratory passages.
There is no one food which can arm you against the flu but lacking certain nutrients can make you more vulnerable to catching it. Your best strategy for strengthening your immune system is eating a healthy, balanced diet that includes lots of antioxidant-rich, anti-inflammatory foods and plenty of fluids.
Robin Atwood is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who has been serving the community surrounding RMH for the last 17 years. She is Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition and is based in the Sentara RMH Hahn Cancer Center where she provides nutrition counseling for maximizing nutrition and wellness to cancer patients and cancer survivors.