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Boosting Immunity to Combat Colds &Flu

Susan O'Donnell Susan O'Donnell is a registered dietitian with Lehigh Valley Health Network.

Q: Can improving my diet help decrease my risk for infectious disease during cold-and-flu season?

A: Yes. Poor diet is a major cause of a weakened immune system. One of the best ways to stay healthy during cold-and-flu season is to eat right. Your immune system is your body's natural line of defense against bacteria and viruses, but subtle vitamin and mineral deficiencies can weaken that resistance. The key to stronger immunity is to eat a well-balanced diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seafood, dairy products, and lean meats.

Q: Are there any signs that my immunity is faltering?

A: Moderate nutritional shortfalls, which can leave your body vulnerable to infection, may show up as fatigue. Or you might see hair loss, brittle nails, or dry, dull skin. Generally, you may just experience that run-down feeling and lack the energy to do the things you used to do.

Q: How can I "shape up" my immune system?

A: Start by increasing your fruit and vegetable intake to at least the recommended five helpings a day. Antioxidant compounds, found in fruits and vegetables, help protect the cells of the immune system from free-radical damage. Those damaged cells have been linked to depressed immunity. A diet high in antioxidants will help shield your body's healthy cells from becoming damaged.

Adding vitamin C- and A-rich produce such as citrus fruits, green, leafy vegetables, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots to your meals will stimulate your immune system. In addition, vitamin B6 is important for creating antibodies that fight infection. You can boost your intake by eating potatoes, bananas and turkey. Also, serve up more beans, lentils, and peanut butter, which are prime sources of folate, another immunity-bolstering vitamin.

You should also make omega-3s - the fatty acids most commonly found in salmon, white albacore tuna, and flaxseed - a regular part of your diet. These "good fats" are believed to decrease inflammation in the body. Less bodily inflammation means a healthier, stronger system better equipped to fend off disease and repair itself.

Q: Can I eat healthy "on the go?"

A: Most convenience stores have diced fruit and vegetables available, so now it's easy to eat right on the run. At work, try drinking black or green tea throughout the day. Research has shown that tea has lots of antioxidants that boost cold and flu virus-fighting immune cells. At home, keep your freezer stocked with bags of frozen fruits and vegetables, and add to soups, casseroles and cereals daily.

Q: Even if I feel well, is it beneficial for me to improve my immune function?

A: Yes. Start by eliminating junk foods. Cut out processed foods, sodas, saturated fats and sugary treats. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Too much alcohol tends to suppress your immune system. Finally, don't rely on vitamin supplements. Take a multivitamin as back up, which can provide immune-boosting nutrients such as selenium and zinc; however, it's best to feed your immune system the vitamins and minerals it needs through natural food sources.

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This is a non-profit organization. Please consider donating to help heal, comfort and care.

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