Now that we’re in the thick of cold and flu season, bogus claims about how to stay healthy are aplenty. As a registered dietitian, I hear a lot of nutrition-related myths about taking vitamin supplements to avoid getting sick, but they may actually do more harm than good (more on that below). Instead, use common sense to take care of yourself year-round: Wash your hands, get enough sleep, and get a flu shot. Then, here’s what you can try eating to boost your immune system – and what you can skip.Â
What to Eat to Stay Healthy
Probiotics: Think of your gut as a personal bodyguard: Since itâ€™s the first line of defense for anything you ingest, it protects all other organs in your body before anything has the chance to circulate through your bloodstream. Consider taking a probiotic (a.k.a. beneficial bacteria) designed to prevent diseases year-round. They’ve been linked to reducing the duration of a cold and may decrease your likelihood of getting sick. Foods rich in probiotics can also help your gut and immune system stay healthier. Look for fermented foods, like sauerkraut, tempeh, and miso, as well as Greek yogurt with at least five strains of bacterial cultures added to it.
Colourful fruits and veggies: Foods high in prebiotic fibre, including produce and 100% whole grains like oats, are also key. The prebiotic fibre in veggies and fruit supports the probiotics that live in your GI tract, helping them grow and thrive.
Protein: Protein from lean animal sources and plant-based versions (like chickpeas, beans, lentils, and peas) can also boost immunity by regulating existing cells and generating new ones. Plant-based protein sources such as nuts and seeds also provide antioxidants, while meat, shellfish, and legumes supply zinc, the mineral that helps maintain immune cells.
Skip vitamin and mineral supplements.
While it’s highly unlikely you’ll get too much from food sources, fat-soluble vitamins – vitamin A, D, E, and K – can be harmful in high doses. Research is still ongoing, but science consistently supports the fact that vitamins in supplement form can may harm rather than protect cells.
What to Eat When You’re Sick
Water and tea: Downing fruit or veggie juices when you’re under the weather will only lead to a blood sugar crash, making you feel worse. Since our bodyâ€™s fluid needs increase when weâ€™re fighting infection, drinking an extra two cups of water plus your daily minimum can fuel regeneration of immune-fighting lymphatic cells to get your body feeling stronger. Hot tea and coffee will help you breathe easier (and the caffeination won’t hurt!).
Zinc lozenges: While consuming extra vitamin C wonâ€™t help you heal any faster, having 15 mg of zinc twice a day has been linked to reducing duration of your cold, and at the very least, it can help scratchy throats feel better.
Broth: Soups and stews (which provide immune-boosting amino acids and minerals) can feel soothing, while the heat helps open up congestion. Chicken soup also provides more protein plus H2O. Thereâ€™s a reason they call it Grandmaâ€™s penicillin!
Gallery: 10 Superfoods to Eat During Cold and Flu Season [Muscle and Fitness]