Meals to Prevent Cold and Flu
We've created some meal menus based on foods rich in the nutrients believed to ward off cold and flu infections. Most of these work by keeping your immune system in tip-top shape.
As in all things related to diet, it’s hard to find absolute agreement. The following list contains the nutrients most favored for helping your immune system fight off illness.
Beta-carotene is a fat-soluble substance that protects the body’s cells from damage caused by free radicals.
2. Bioflavonoids, sometimes referred to as polyphenols, modify the body’s reaction to allergens, viruses, and carcinogens.
3. Probiotics maintain your balance of “good germs” and are especially important if you’re on antibiotics.
4. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation (and benefit heart and neurologic health).
5. Selenium is incorporated into proteins to make selenoproteins, which are important antioxidant enzymes.
6. Vitamin C is another antioxidant. Its cold-prevention prowess is now in question, but let’s not underestimate the placebo effect!
7. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that fights free radicals.
8. Zinc plays a key role in many chemical reactions, and zinc deficiency is linked to greater susceptibility to infectious disease.
Read on for menus chock full of these good things.
Photo Credit: Hands Holding Tea
Breakfast Idea 1
Tea, especially green (polyphenols)
Yogurt (probiotics, zinc) with sliced kiwi (vitamin C, omega-3 fatty acid) and sunflower seeds or almonds (vitamin E)
According to research at the University of Michigan, you can support probiotic growth by increasing the amount of cultured dairy products you eat (such as cheeses and
yogurt) as well as foods that encourage probiotics to multiply even further: spices, tea, red wine, berries, apples, and beans.
Breakfast Idea 2
Orange juice (vitamin C)
Fortified cereal (vitamin E) mixed with granola containing pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds (zinc), and/or flax seeds (omega-3 fatty acid)
Research is limited on the effectiveness of vitamin C in cold prevention, but one study of elite athletes and soldiers in extreme temperatures found that vitamin C appeared to reduce the incidence of infection. In another study (of more ordinary mortals!), results from vitamin C were no different from a placebo. Vitamin E results are even less clear. As the Mayo Clinic and NIH both say, more research is needed. Vitamin C is found in rose hips, parsley, guava, papaya, and
citrus; vitamin E is found in vegetable oils, nuts, green leafy vegetables, and fortified cereals.
Lunch Idea 1
Guava juice (vitamin C)
Burrito with shrimp and black beans (zinc), tomato (vitamin C), and avocado (vitamin E)
Red grapes (bioflavonoids)
Bioflavonoids are found in the white membrane just beneath citrus peel, as well as in peppers, grapes, onions, garlic, blue and red berries, green tea, and buckwheat. Also pine bark, though unless you find yourself on a reality TV survival show, you might want to pass.
Lunch Idea 2
Grapefruit juice (vitamin C)
Rye (zinc) bagel or toast with smoked salmon (omega-3 fatty acids) and onions (bioflavonoids)
Spinach salad with strawberries or sweet red peppers (vitamin C)
Omega-3 fatty acids, also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids, are useful in almost every aspect of health. Aside from their known quality as an anti-inflammatory (useful against allergic and respiratory symptoms) and promoter of overall cell health, preliminary evidence suggests that they may also prove helpful in protecting against certain infections and treating a variety of conditions, including autism and preterm labor, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Salmon, flax seeds, and walnuts are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Dinner Idea 1
Lean (grassfed, if possible, for greater omega-3 fatty acids) beef tenderloin (zinc, selenium) or tuna (selenium) steaks
Shiitake, maitake, and crimini mushrooms (selenium, zinc) sauteed in sunflower oil (vitamin E)
Steamed carrots (beta-carotene)
Oysters contain more zinc per serving than any other food, but red meat and poultry provide most of the zinc in the American diet. Some nutritional approaches (for example, the pH-based diet) maintain that meat in itself is not a help to the immune system. Other good sources of zinc include beans, nuts, whole grains, fortified cereals, and dairy. If you’re trying to get pregnant, are pregnant, or are nursing, limit your intake of tuna (and other large predatory fish) due to the danger of mercury.
Dinner Idea 2
Sweet potato gratin or sweet potato soup (beta-carotene)
Roasted garlic (selenium, vitamin C) smeared on crusty bread
Sauteed mustard greens or chard (bioflavonoids, beta-carotene)
Beta-carotene gets its name from carrots, so it’s easy to remember that you’ll find it in richly colored, especially orangey vegetables. According to the George Mateljan Foundation’s website World’s Healthiest Foods, beta-carotene has been linked to prevention of asthma and pneumonia. Most people get selenium from plants, and plants’ selenium content varies with the selenium content of the soil they’re grown in. North Americans get most of their selenium from meat and fish, but Brazil nuts are the food richest in selenium. (We need only trace amounts of this mineral.)
Supplements: Think before You Pop
Taking a balanced multivitamin could help round out nutrient deficiencies you may have, especially if you are on a restricted diet or suffer extensive food allergies. If you are pregnant, it’s especially important you take a prenatal vitamin. However, be careful of overdoing it on one nutrient. Do a little research on your own and check with your physician.
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