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Health / Safety

Wdowik Nutrition Column: Fight the Cold and Flu with a Healthy Diet

January 25, 2013

There's nothing like waking up with a cold to motivate me to be more proactive about my health.

woman sneezingGiving 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!

This column was written by Melissa Wdowik, an assistant professor at Colorado State University, director of the Kendall Anderson Nutrition Center and a CSU Extension affiliate.

Contact: Dell Rae Moellenberg
Phone: (970) 491-6009