If you have experienced coughing, sore throat, fatigue, body aches and runny nose, then you know exactly what it feels like to have the cold, flu or another respiratory illness. Despite having washed your hands and constant use of hand sanitizer, you have still gotten sick. Why?
One thing that you may be forgetting is the importance of good nutrition when it comes to keeping your immune system strong. Vitamin C-rich citrus and beta carotene-rich sweet potatoes and carrots are some of the first foods that come to mind when consumers think of diet and immunity. However, there are other foods that you can find in your local grocery store to help ward off infections this cold and flu season.
Yogurt: Yogurt and other fermented dairy products, including kefir, sweet acidophilus milk and frozen yogurt, contain beneficial bacteria termed probiotics. Consumers may better recognize probiotics by the term “live active cultures” seen on yogurt containers and the bacterial strain names Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. casei, L. reuteri and Bifidobacterium bifidum in the ingredient list of foods. These friendly bacteria are also naturally found in your digestive tract and help maintain a healthy gut. When you consume yogurt and other fermented dairy foods, more of these good bacteria are able to colonize the digestive tract and help immune cells fight off invading bacteria and viruses. To reap the most benefit from probiotics, be sure to consume a serving (6-8 ounces) of yogurt or other fermented dairy food each day so that your digestive tract maintains a constant population of these beneficial bacteria.
Tea: Teas, especially green and white teas, contain high levels of antioxidant compounds known as catechins and appreciable amounts of the unique amino acid, L-theanine. In a research study conducted in 2007 that was published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, participants taking standardized tea capsules containing L-theanine and the catechin, epigallocatechin gallate, for 12 weeks experienced 35 percent fewer days of cold and flu symptoms as compared with individuals taking placebo capsules. Additionally, fewer than half of those taking the tea capsules experienced any cold and flu symptoms during the 12 weeks. Although capsules were used in the study, you can get similar levels of L-theanine and epigallocatechin gallate by drinking 8–10 cups of green tea daily. So, the next time you are looking for a warm beverage on a chilly day, reach for a calorie-free cup of green tea.
Nuts and whole grains: Researchers at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging found that daily intake of 200 IU of vitamin E may help prevent colds among the elderly residing in long-term care facilities. Both nuts and whole grains, especially the bran and germ of the grain, are good sources of vitamin E. Georgia residents are blessed with an abundance of pecans and peanuts. One ounce or 28 crunchy, dry roasted peanuts alone supply 11 percent of the daily value of vitamin E. If you are not a nut lover, try sprinkling wheat germ on cereal or yogurt at breakfast for added crunch and a boost of vitamin E.
Consuming yogurt, tea, nuts, whole grains and other foods that support immunity may help keep the pesky cold and flu from ruining your fun this winter. When it comes to maintaining your overall health and wellness, however, there is still no substitute for adequate sleep and physical activity each day and for a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Rebecca Creasy is the Houston County Extension agent for food and nutrition and family and consumer sciences. Contact her at 478-987-2028 or firstname.lastname@example.org.