This time of year comes with many perks – the trees are turning colours, the air is fresh and crisp, and we have access to all the delicious fresh apples that our hearts could desire. All of this is almost enough to make us forget that fall season is also cold and flu season.
On average, adults suffer from 2-5 colds every year and the flu is responsible for over 12,000 hospitalizations. These numbers might seem high, but we want to help you stay prepared and healthy by eating the right foods for your immune health to help avoid the wrath of cold and flu season this year.
There are a few things that you can do to help reduce your chances of getting a cold or flu. These include staying physically active, getting adequate sleep, drinking enough water, eating a well-balanced diet.
When it comes to diet there are some nutrients that are more helpful than others for preventing and reducing cold and flu symptoms. Let’s talk about what these nutrients are and how you can incorporate them into your everyday routine.
Top Nutrients For Cold And Flu Season
When talking about nutrients for treating cold and flu, vitamin C is probably the most referred to nutrient. Although vitamin C does have benefits on your immune system it doesn’t actually prevent you from getting a cold, but it might help with reducing the severity and time that you’re sick. So rather than eating all the oranges when you feel that cold coming on, it’s more helpful to incorporate vitamin C as a regular part of your diet.
About 200 mg per day can be helpful; on your plate, this would look something like 2 large oranges or 1 large bell pepper. By consuming a balanced diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits, you should have no problem reaching this amount of vitamin C. Alternatively, if you feel that you are not getting enough through your diet, speak with a Registered Dietitian (RD) or your family doctor to consider using a vitamin supplement to meet your needs.
Vitamin D is a unique nutrient that we actually don’t get a whole lot of through our diets. Our bodies naturally and conveniently produce vitamin D when exposed to the sun. Seems easy enough, but for those of us living in Canada, we only get a very short portion of the year that we can spend outside in the sun – thanks to our long and dreadful friend: WINTER.
Along with the many other health benefits that vitamin D provides, it is also a regulator of your immune system; so having inadequate amounts in your body could affect your ability to fight off infections.
Although there are some good food sources of vitamin D such as low-fat milk, fortified dairy alternatives, and fatty fish, most people benefit from using a supplement to achieve optimal levels.
Supplementing with 1000 IU of vitamin D3 is generally recommended for good health, especially during the winter months, however, always speak with your RD or doctor before starting any supplementation to ensure there aren’t any contraindications.
Although zinc doesn’t get as much attention as some of the other nutrients, it is an important one to consider when it comes to immune health. It is essential for the normal development and function of your immune cells. Therefore, being zinc-deficient can have a major impact on the effectiveness of your immune system.
Luckily, it’s found in many foods and most of us get enough by eating a variety such as meat, chicken, fortified cereals, beans, nuts, dairy, and whole grains.
For some people, getting enough zinc might be a little more work but still doable through diet alone. This includes people who have digestive disorders like Crohn’s disease or those who consume a vegetarian or vegan diet. In this case, checking in with an RD to ensure your diet is ready for cold and flu season might be a good idea.
The more we learn about probiotics, the more we realize that these good bacteria are definitely our friends. Probiotics are defined as “live microorganisms or bacteria which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit to the host”; meaning if we consume enough of these little guys we should get paid back in good health.
It might seem counterintuitive that we’re supporting the process of eating bacteria to fight off other bacteria or viruses, but it’s all about the specific strains of probiotics that were consuming.
There are many probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, etc, that you can include as a regular part of your diet for general good health. But if we’re talking specifically about preparing for cold and flu season there are a few strains of probiotics that are going to be more helpful.
Two strains that are associated with reducing the severity of symptoms and the duration of the common cold are Lactobacillus paracasei 8700:2 and Lactobacillus plantarum HEAL9. The easiest way to get these is through the use of a probiotic supplement. One that we generally recommend is UltraFlora® Cold Support by Metagenics.
If you are interested in learning more about these supplements contact us for a supplement review to find out if taking a probiotic supplement is right for you.
Do Natural Health Products Help With Colds Or Flus?
There is really isn’t any strong evidence to support the use of natural health products or herbal supplements in preventing the common cold or flu. Although, a few that are commonly referred to in relation to immune health are ginseng, echinacea, garlic supplement, and elderflower tea.
Some studies have found ginseng to reduce the overall time that sickness occurs, but the results are not quite conclusive. Similarly, the other products do not show any benefits in preventing or reducing the severity of the common cold.
It’s important to keep in mind that although these products are marketed as natural or herbal, they can interact with many medications and could be dangerous for some people (young children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and the elderly).
Before considering supplementation always focus on maintaining an overall balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains which may be more beneficial in keeping you healthy. If you are considering using these products, speak with a regulated health professional to ensure you use them safely.
Many of the nutrients and extracts that have been shown to be beneficial for immune support are available in another of our favourite supplements Immunocore: https://nutriprocan.metagenicscanada.com/immucore.
Does Chicken Soup Actually Help?
This is one that might surprise you! There does happen to be some evidence that chicken soup could be beneficial in improving some of the symptoms associated with a cold or flu such as a runny nose, cough, sneezing, sore throat and chills. But whether these benefits come from the chicken soup itself or the temperature of the warm broth is unclear. Anyhow, continue adding this delicious and health benefiting food to your diet over the cold winter months.
Keep in mind that most pre-packaged soups are high in sodium, so consider whipping up your own batch from fresh ingredients at home.
Need some inspiration? Try this homemade chicken soup recipe!
How We Help
The world of nutrition can be confusing, especially when talking about your immune health. Use the tips we’ve provided in this blog and let us know how we can help by booking a free 20-minute consultation with one of our Registered Dietitians for more individualized recommendations!
Read more about probiotics and prebiotics on our previous blog: