5 Ways Nutrition Can Prevent Cold & Flu (And Treat Them!)
Published: Monday, January 19, 2015
Would you prevent the cold or flu if possible? Unfortunately there is no full proof way to prevent the cold or flu, but you can arm yourself with a hydrated body and a healthy immune system with proper diet and exercise. These are two key factors in prevention and treatment of cold and flu viruses. Flu vaccination, hand hygiene, and adequate sleep also are very important.
Here are 5 ways to prevent the cold and flu with nutrition.
- Hydration – The outdoor air is drier in cold weather, and our heated homes are dry. Staying hydrated in the winter keeps mucous membranes soft and moist, preventing tiny cracks that allow viruses and bacteria to enter. Is eight glasses a day enough water to keep hydrated? One simple rule of thumb is this: divide your weight (pounds) by two. That's the minimum number of ounces your body needs. If you exercise, take your weight and multiply by 2/3 to get the number of ounces. Everyone’s specific fluid needs may differ.
- Plant-based foods – A diet rich in vegetables, fruit and whole grains is high in antioxidants and phytonutrients. Antioxidants are known to reduce the risk of stroke and enhance immune defense, which lowers the risk of cancer and infection. Phytonutrients are linked to increased immunity and faster healing. Aim for seven servings of fruits and vegetables and at least three servings of whole grains per day. Nutrient-packed choices include broccoli, red onion, blueberries, grapes, oats, barley and tea.
- Probiotics – Recent research shows probiotics (dietary supplement) boosting the immune system. The theory is healthy bacteria found in probiotics keep the gut and intestinal tract low in disease-causing germs. Yogurt with live active cultures and kefir are good food sources of probiotics. Over-the-counter supplements also are available. Some studies were based on a 7-ounce serving of yogurt with live cultures.
- Exercise – Moderate physical activity is a powerful immunity booster. A 30 to 60 minute walk most days per week is considered moderate exercise. Too much or not enough exercise actually can weaken immune systems. Try dancing, walking, stationary biking, indoor swimming or similar activities to move more in the winter months.
- Vitamins and Minerals - Many supplements claim to reduce colds and viruses, but few studies substantiate claims. A literature review on vitamin C supplementation found no difference in cold rates for those who took 200 mg daily and those who took none. One exception was people who exercised outside in the winter. They benefited from the vitamin C supplement and reduced risk of catching a cold by 50%. The best supplement option is a multivitamin/mineral once per day with 100% of the recommended daily values of vitamins A, B6, B12, C and D, and minerals chromium, copper, folic acid, selenium, calcium and zinc.
The average American gets 2 – 3 colds per year. If you come down with the dreaded cold or flu how can you use your diet to possibly help with the symptoms?
Here are 5 ways to treat the cold and flu with nutrition.
- Hydration - Stay hydrated with plenty of warm, soothing liquids such as tea, cocoa, broths, soup and the like. Drink something every hour while awake if possible.
- Avoid calorie restriction - Don’t feel like you have to have low calorie or low-fat versions of foods and beverages. You need calories during times of illness and diet foods and beverages may not give you enough to fight an illness. Protein provides the building blocks for our immune system. Carbohydrates and fat are good sources of energy and calories. Try liquids, then advance to a bland diet when ill.
- Zinc – At the first sign of a cold, zinc may prevent or decrease the duration of a cold. It also may help when used soon after a possible virus exposure. Zinc lozenges release ions that prevent the virus from maturing and attaching to airways. Take it once or twice per day for only a week at a time. Long-term zinc supplementation may decrease immunity.
- Chicken Soup – Grandma really did know best. One study found that eating chicken soup while sick decreased the duration and severity of cold and flu symptoms.
- Honey – Research has linked honey to treating cough as well as Dextromethorphan (DM) cough medication. The study used buckwheat honey because of its antioxidant content. Test the theory by adding a dollop of honey to hot tea while nursing an illness. Remember do not give honey to children under 12 months of age.
If you have the flu and need treatment, call 865-305-6970 for an appointment or visit the After-Hours Clinics.