Squash Winter Bugs with Food

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Nutrition expert offers drug-free ways for families to boost their immune systems and fight off the flu by eating common foods like mushrooms, seafood, and nuts.

Strengthening your immune system with a diet loaded with immune-boosting foods is another cheap, simple strategy for preventing illness that doesn’t add any extra work to your busy day.

With the onset of fall comes the start of the annual flu season. Nasty bugs are getting ready to tear their way through offices and schools, leaving you and your family sniffly, sick, grumpy, and sore. Last year's H1N1 scare left everyone on flu high-alert. But with a little help from some key immune-boosting foods, you can reduce your chances of falling ill.

According to nutrition expert Gloria Tsang, founder of HealthCastle.com, it’s important to keep your body healthy and primed to fight winter bugs – and use nutrition tactics to cut illness short if it does strike. “Everyone knows by now what a difference a simple thing like hand-washing can make,” Gloria says. “Strengthening your immune system with a diet loaded with immune-boosting foods is another cheap, simple strategy for preventing illness that doesn’t add any extra work to your busy day.”

If you’ve been taking Zinc lozenges to boost your fall immunity, there’s bad news: they just don’t work. Instead of trying to “beat the system” by loading up on pills, use these simple tips to boost your immunity at every meal:

  • Yogurt for Probiotics: Some strains, like Lactobacillus casei and Lactobacillus reuteri have been scientifically shown to prevent colds, improve immune response, or shorten sick leaves from work. Look for yogurt products that contain these specific strains!
  • Citrus for Vitamin C: Vitamin C is important for immunity, but dietitians actually recommend against a daily supplement. Instead, load up on oranges, kiwis, cantaloupe, strawberries, and watermelon, and only take supplements if you’ve got early symptoms of the flu.
  • Mushrooms for Beta-Glucan: Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of them – beta 1,3/1,6 glucans from mushrooms have been shown to enhance macrophage activity, which is critical in warding off infection. So toss extra mushrooms in your pasta sauce, soups, stir-fries, casseroles, or pizza.
  • Seafood for Selenium: A small study found that healthy men with a high-selenium diet had an improved immune response. Seafood’s a rich source of this potent antioxidant, so include a variety of sustainable seafood choices in your diet.
  • Green Tea for Catechins: A 2007 study showed that participants taking green tea extracts had improved immune response. Drinking at least 6 cups of tea will achieve the same health benefits.
  • Nuts for Vitamin E: Researchers found that a daily Vitamin E supplement of 200 IU may help prevent colds among the elderly living in nursing homes. Nuts are a rich source of Vitamin E, so add some to your diet to load up on Vitamin E without a pill.
  • What about Zinc? Zinc found in meat is vital to immune response. But although zinc lozenges were very popular in the 1980s and 90s, a recent review of zinc research found that only one study had shown benefits, four subsequent studies showed no benefits, and four were biased.

Boosting your overall health and immunity with nutrition is more important this flu season than ever before. Keep your loved ones healthy and ready to fight off fall illness with these powerful foods. More healthy eating tips from registered dietitians are available at HealthCastle.com, an official USDA MyPyramid Partner.

About HealthCastle.com: HealthCastle.com is the most comprehensive nutrition community run by Registered Dietitians on the web. The dietitians at HealthCastle.com have been sharing their passion for nutrition and health since 1997. For fun and practical healthy eating tips, exclusive nutrition guides, and nutrition podcasts, visit http://www.HealthCastle.com.

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Tracey Johnston
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