Cold and flu season is upon us and with that comes many unpleasant symptoms, such as weakness, muscle aches, runny nose, headaches and congestion. There are many factors that affect immune function, one of these key factors is nutrition.
Nutrition can play a critical role in boosting our immune system by helping to create an inhospitable environment for foreign pathogens (i.e. viruses and bacteria) and help to build our immune fighting cells.
Below are ways that we can nutritionally support our body in order to boost our immune system.
1. Protein: Protein, and the amino acids that compose protein, are the building blocks for our immune cells. We need amino acids to build proper immune cells, in adequate amounts. Foods with protein include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds. If you follow a vegetarian diet, or feel a loss in appetite, protein powder may be helpful. Enjoy a source of protein at every meal and snack to maintain proper protein levels. As a rough measurement, strive to eat 0.5 grams of protein for every pound of body mass.
2. Reduce Sugar: Sugar intake can lower our immunity by inhibiting production of immune cells which can acutely suppress our immune system. This effect can last 30 minutes to 5 hours after eating foods high in simple sugars (pop, juice, candy, chocolate, etc.). Try to enjoy sugar in small quantities and with a source of protein and healthy fat. Enjoy complex carbohydrates that are high in fibre, such as whole grains, beans and vegetables.
3. Immune Boosting Vitamins & Minerals: There are certain vitamins and minerals that may help strengthen the immune system and specifically lessen the chance of or shorten the duration of the common cold. Vitamin C, Vitamin D and Zinc are all utilized by immune cells and are a component of forming new immune cells. Eating a varied diet, full of whole grains, vegetables and fruit is important to ensure proper vitamin and mineral intake. You may also take Vitamins C, D and Zinc in supplement form under the advisement of a health care practitioner.
4. Herbs: Both ginger and turmeric have components that may be helpful for fighting off the common cold and fighting off virus and bacteria. Ginger and turmeric both contain anti-bacterial components and can help you get through the cold and flu season. Enjoy these herbs in a tea or with your food.
5. Gut Health: There is an increasing body of evidence that suggests the health of our gastrointestinal is important for immunity. We produce immune cells in our gut which is seen as the first line of defence against foreign pathogens. Eating fibre and probiotics are both important for our digestion. Yogurt, fermented vegetables and fermented soy products like miso contain probiotics, which are the beneficial bacteria that reside in our gut. You may consider taking a probiotic supplement under the advisement of a health care practitioner.
As with any new changes in your diet, it is always a good idea to talk with your health care practitioner before trying new foods, herbs and supplements.
Sarah Goldstein CNP is the lead Nutritionist and owner of Sarah Goldstein Nutrition, a general nutrition practice focusing on educating both individuals and groups through consultations, group coaching, workshops and online resources.