After being laid up on the couch for the third day in a row, I decided it was time to get up and start writing. It is day three of what seems to be the flu, although I did get a flu shot (not that it’s completely effective) so I am not quite sure. Today is the first day that my temperature is nearly normal, and my aches and pains have subsided enough for me to sit upright and type this. I feel pretty silly because just last week I was bragging to some friends, who were just getting over their colds, about how my healthy eating and daily green smoothies have kept me in fighting form…leave it to me to stick my own foot in my mouth…well turns out, I wasn’t doing everything possible to keep the flu from knocking down my door. Because nutrition plays such a vital role in maintaining our immune health, I thought it is appropriate to give you some important tips to both help prevent illness and aid in a speedy recovery- even if I didn’t follow my own advice, I definitely won’t let it happen again.
Foods to Prevent Colds and the Flu:
- Garlic: This strongly stinky bulbous plant contains a compound called, allicin. Allicin is known for its antibacterial and antifungal qualities, and is credited for protecting garlic from pests in nature. A British study found that those taking garlic extract for 3 months were 66% less likely to catch a cold. Garlic is also thought to lower the risk of stomach and colorectal cancer. Aim for 1-2 cloves per day. Eat it raw if you can tolerate it, or use it in your recipes.
- Oysters: These slippery nuggets are full of zinc. This mineral is proven to either shorten the length and severity of a cold or prevent the contraction of a cold altogether. Those that ingest zinc on a regular basis may catch fewer colds per year. I recommend getting zinc from food sources as supplement forms have side effects such as nausea, poor taste, and some have reported permanent loss of smell with zinc nasal sprays – and it can be toxic if taken in large quantities. Food sources of zinc include: beef, oysters, crabmeat, wheat germ, spinach, pumpkin seeds, cashews, cocoa powder, and chickpeas.
- Tea: Researchers out of Brigham and Women’s Hospital found a scientific basis for the centuries old belief that tea has beneficial properties. They found that black, green and oolong teas have high concentrations of the amino acid, L-theanine. Lab tests found that gamma T-cells (immune cells) treated with L-theanine multiplied significantly more than those not treated. This allows for an increase in disease fighting properties. When researchers compared tea drinkers to coffee drinkers, they found that those drinking 20 ounces (broken into 5 small servings) of tea per day had nearly five times the amount of disease fighting proteins in blood samples.
- Oats: Who knew that morning bowl of oatmeal would contain a form of fiber called, beta-glucan, that is potent enough to ward of the flu. This complex carbohydrate compound travels to the small intestine where it will signal specified white blood cells to activate immune boosting cells and antibodies. This leads to greater disease-fighting potential. Beta-glucans are also known for decreasing the risk for cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol levels, and even decreasing the risk of certain cancers. Oats, barley, and certain mushrooms such as shitake and maitake are rich in beta-glucans.
Okay, so you (like me) did not do everything in your power to avoid the dreaded cold or flu, and you wound up in bed, with a 101 degree fever, killer sore throat, major body aches, and virtually no energy…keep reading.
- Chicken Soup: Not just because it is a comfort food to nearly everyone, or because it is downright delicious, turns out chicken soup is much more than that. Research shows that it actually decreases the movement of inflammatory cells into the bronchioles. Why is this important? Because those wretched cold symptoms are often caused by the buildup of these inflammatory cells in the bronchioles. As chicken is cooked in water and broth is created, protein is broken down into more simple forms. One of these simpler forms is the amino acid, cysteine. It is said that cysteine appears very similar chemically to the bronchitis drug acetylcysteine. Warm chicken soup relaxes the chest and allows mucous to flow more easily. It is also a good way to take in more fluids, so drink up that broth!
- Honey: Known for its antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, honey is perfect for a sore throat. It can actually help kill bacteria in the back of your throat as it creates a soothing effect in its place. Add a spoonful in hot tea, enjoy it alone, or mix it into whatever you can think of to relieve that painful throat. Just remember honey should not be given to children under 1 year of age.
- Spice: By adding a dash of hot spice to your foods, your airways will open and you will temporarily breathe easier. Think cayenne pepper, horseradish, and wasabi. Add some hot sauce to your soups, or enjoy a spicy salsa. Spicy foods are known to boost the immune system and even offer healing effects. So find ways to incorporate spice into your life especially when you are under the weather.
- Orange Juice: If you know me, you know that there is rarely an occasion in which I believe a store-bought orange juice is acceptable…well, welcome to that rare occasion. Although orange juice is virtually a sugar beverage in which little fiber is offered, it is also a liquid that is loaded with Vitamin C and other nutrients to aid in immune health. When we are really sick, we rarely have an appetite. Therefore by drinking juice, we are getting the glucose and fructose (sugar) that our body needs to function as well as much needed liquids. Dehydration is all too common with colds and the flu. It exacerbates the already ugly and uncomfortable symptoms. So here is your one and only opportunity to buy that orange juice. Go for it!
In reality, we can try as hard as possible to stave away that nasty flu, but sometimes it is just inevitable that we get sick. This is certainly not the time to beat yourself up for not doing everything under the sun to fight it. It can, however, be a good time to reevaluate your situation. Maybe you are working way too much, or not sleeping as much as you should, or maybe it is time to add that grapefruit to your morning regimen. But for now: sleep, drink fluids, rest, and repeat!by