Note to Reporters: Melissa Wdowik is an assistant professor at Colorado State University, director of the Kendall Anderson Nutrition Center and a CSU Extension affiliate.
There’s nothing like waking up with a cold to motivate me to be more proactive about my health. Giving your immune system a boost can prevent cold viruses from claiming you as a victim, but many products are marketed as benefiting your immune system – ever wonder which ones may really work? I sorted through the hype to find the best tips for fighting colds and flu with a healthy diet.
– Vitamin D seems to be at the top of every list, and with good reason. Vitamin D plays an important role in the immune system and studies have found that people with low vitamin D levels are at increased risk for colds and other upper respiratory tract infections. To make matters worse, our exposure to the sun —which makes your body produce vitamin D– is limited in the winter, making more of us susceptible to a deficiency. Increase your intake of vitamin D by consuming more of these food sources:
– Fatty fish such as salmon and tuna
– Vitamin D-fortified milk, yogurt and orange juice
– Vitamin C is a popular fix, but it’s been documented that vitamin C does not prevent colds except in some people who are physically stressed, such as marathon runners. However, there is evidence that extra vitamin C during the first stage of a cold can help shorten its duration and intensity. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, which enhances immune defense and lowers risk of infection. Get plenty of these:
– Grapefruit, oranges, clementines and berries
– Deep colored vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and red bell peppers
– Probiotics are good bacteria that strengthen immunity and keep bad bacteria in check. Some research shows probiotics may reduce respiratory infections. Your best sources:
– Yogurt that contains live, active cultures
– Kefir, miso soup, buttermilk and tempeh
– Protein is essential since it provides the building blocks of immune molecules. In addition to the dairy and fish already listed, include these protein sources on a regular basis:
– Animal protein found in eggs, lean beef, poultry, pork and lamb contains iron and zinc, two important immune system minerals.
– Almonds and sunflower seeds are a good source of protein and are high in vitamin E, another immune-boosting vitamin.
– Liquids are key to keeping your body hydrated, which helps your immune system keep viruses at bay. If you drink juice, limit it to 4-6 ounces of 100 percent fruit juice per day so that you don’t get excessive calories and sugar. Also include plenty of these:
– Black tea and green tea, which contain antioxidants
– Water, which is pure, simple and inexpensive. Keep a cup or water bottle with you and drink it throughout the day. Squeeze in a lemon or lime wedge for an extra antioxidant boost.
Overall good nutrition also is important, so be sure to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables every day. There is scientific evidence that what you eat and drink can affect your immune system. I hope you use these tips to stay healthy; I know I will!