Battling the Cold & Flu Season with Nutrition!

Good nutrition is one way you can help pump up your immunity to avoid those dreaded winter colds and flu’s! The roles for nutrients in immune function are varied and therefore an adequate and balanced supply of these nutrients is essential for an appropriate immune response to be achieved. In other words, good nutrition creates an environment in which your immune system is able to respond appropriately, regardless of the nature of the challenge.

There are many nutrients that are superstars when it comes to helping build a strong immunity. Vitamin C and antioxidants are always in the spotlight but there are other nutrients essential for a healthy immune system. Protein, vitamin A, D, E, zinc, iron, selenium and copper are also very important.

I wanted to keep this relatively simple for you to follow so I have created a few key nutrition strategies you can incorporate into your weekly routine that will help you boost your immunity. So when you are doing your grocery shopping keep these tips in mind!

  1. Nuts and seeds are a great source of protein, fat as well as vitamins and minerals. Mixed nuts provide a variety different levels of nutrients. Try an ounce per day with a piece of fruit as a snack and you will be bumping up your protein, fat soluble vitamins and minerals. Some superstars in this category are Brazil nuts which are very high in selenium and pumpkin seeds are loaded with vitamin E.
  2. Orange and green leafy veggies are powerhouses for nutrients! Have some fun with different squashes this season. Add a vitamin C source like sliced red pepper to a spinach or kale salad to help you absorb iron. Squashes are super easy to cook: simply cut in half, remove the seeds and place in the oven at 350 degrees for 12-20 minutes to roast. Peel skin off and cut into cubes. You can enjoy as is with a little butter and pepper, throw into soups or eat it cold on a salad.
  3. Oysters, mussels or octopus anyone? Seafood is a great source of minerals and protein. While fresh options may not be plentiful in the prairies, other versions are available including canned and frozen if you enjoy these options. They are great sources of zinc, selenium and copper.
  4. Do I have to eat my liver mom? I went to buy some liver at the grocery store last week but they didn’t have any in the meat department. Apparently you must have to request it these days. Clearly we have gotten away from eating organ meats such as liver. If you do like organ meats, you will be happy to know they are one of the richest sources of immune building nutrients. My mom used to make liver and onions growing up. While my siblings didn’t enjoy it, I acquired a taste for it but honestly haven’t made it in years. She used to soak it in milk before cooking it with onions which created a milder flavor.
  5. Beans, beans, beans! Small but powerful. Beans are like nuts, they are loaded with protein, vitamins and minerals. The other selling feature is they are cheap!! You can buy them dry or canned and add them to pretty much any dish for some extra nourishment. I find this is a group of food that gets overlooked a great deal because many people are worried about the dreaded gas they associate with this food group! Yes, I said the “g” word!! The first recommendation is to start off slow. If you do not currently eat beans on a regular basis I would suggest adding a small amount to your diet and slowly increase your consumption over the course of a few months. If you go from not eating beans to all of a sudden eating 1 cup a day, you may experience an excess amount of gas, cramping and bloating. Some people find that roasted beans cause less gas – others say the opposite. Bottom line, everyone’s digestive tract is different so experiment and see what works best for you.
  6. Where’s the beef? Lean cuts of beef, poultry and pork, bison, wild game, lamb, goat, etc. are where many get most of their protein from. Regardless of which option you choose, they are all excellent sources of protein, vitamins and minerals and in the end it comes down to a matter of preference.

As you can see there is a wide variety of foods that can help build a healthy immune system. However, it is important to keep in mind that nutrition is only one component. Getting adequate exercise, adequate sleep and managing your stress levels are also important in combatting illness. I recommend keeping a journal to assess your current eating pattern, sleep routine, exercise plan, stress and energy level as well as symptoms. This will help you see if there is any area you may need to adjust.