This flu season has certainly been a doozy! We usually see the height of the flu season in February, and already, the incidence of the flu is the highest in more than 10 years. The flu tends to target those with weakened immune systems such as infants, the elderly, and chemotherapy patients. This year, however, we are seeing it affect even seemingly healthy individuals – and the death toll across all groups is frightening.
Many people have asked what they can do, from a nutritional perspective, to boost their immunity and help offset the chance that they catch this year’s intense flu strain. Here are my advice:
Power up with Protein
Certain high protein foods, such as chicken, turkey, shellfish, beans and nuts, are rich in zinc. Zinc helps boost production of white blood cells and fight infection. During the height of the flu season, I recommend increasing lean protein by 3 to 4 servings per day, or at least eat more than you normally would.
Focus on Color and Variety
Your mom and grandma didn't tell you to eat your fruits and veggies for no good reason! Many fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins A and C that strengthen your immune system. They also both contain strong antioxidant properties that will help defend your body from the spread of harmful viruses. Vitamin A is found in red and orange colored fruits and veggies such as carrots, red bell peppers, mango, papaya, butternut squash and sweet potatoes. We also get Vitamin A from dark green leafy vegetables. Vitamin C is found in all citrus fruits, like oranges, tangerines and lemons, along with some others fruits such as strawberries and kiwis.
Maintain Gut Health
Your GI tract, or gastrointestinal tract, is closely linked to immunity. There have been numerous studies connecting a healthy GI tract with good overall heath and the ability to fight off viruses and bacteria. Foods that contain probiotics build the good bacteria in your gut which can fight off germs that you’re exposed to. Foods that contain probiotics include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha and kimchi.
Getting plenty of water and staying hydrated are crucial to optimal digestion and absorption of vitamins, minerals, protein and probiotics. By maintaining optimal hydration, you are ensuring that your efforts to eat healthy will work. Eating healthy and not maintaining hydration can reduce the effectiveness of your nutrient intake.
The best way to “cleanse” your body and enhance immunity is to get regular exercise. The stronger your cardiovascular and musculature systems are, the easier it is for your body to fight off germs and viruses. So, my last piece of advice is to find an activity that you enjoy and do it often.
With a combination of a healthy diet and healthy lifestyle habits, you can strengthen your immune system and protect yourself during this vicious flu season and all throughout the year.