Friday, 10 February 2017

What to eat (and not eat) when you have a cold

It is that time of year again, cold and flu season. When we inevitably do catch a cold, we all would like to get back to feeling our best as soon as possible. While there is little we can do to cure our cold, there are some ways we can use food and nutrition to help strengthen our immune system to give our bodies the upper hand in fighting that nasty bug. Adding these foods to your diet can provide a variety of nutrients beneficial to your health, outside of just helping your body fight off a cold.

1) Hydration:
'Drink your fluids' is likely the number one tip you have heard if you're trying to get over a cold. Being properly hydrated can thin mucus, which helps to ease congestion. It is also important to replenish fluids lost from sweating (if you have a fever for example).

  • Smoothies can be a great way to ensure you are getting adequate nutrition when you are sick if you don't have much of an appetite. Make a smoothie that is packed with antioxidants like vitamin C, E, and flavonoids by adding fruit, nut butters, and some spinach or kale. 
  • Herbal teas, broth, and soups are also a great way to increase your fluid intake if you do not feel like consuming solely water!

2) Hot beverages: Green/ White Teas
Aside from providing hydration to our bodies, drinking warm beverages can help to loosen mucus through the steam coming off the beverages as we drink them.

  • Hot beverages that will give you the most bang for your buck in terms of boosting your immune system are green or white tea. These teas contain catechins, which are antioxidants that help our bodies to ward off infection. 
  • Add a spoonful of honey to your tea if you have a cough; evidence suggests honey may act as a mild cough suppressant. 

3) Chicken Soup:
Chicken soup may not only heal your soul when you are sick, but can actually help to combat inflammation and ease cold symptoms. A study from the University of Nebraska found that chicken noodle soup can help to reduce the action of white blood cells (responsible for inflammation). Now, the soup in this study was not your typical canned soup, it was packed with chicken and a variety of vegetables. If you do wish to purchase pre-made or canned soup, look for low sodium varieties, rather than just "reduced sodium" options as these varieties may still contain high amounts of salt.

4) Probiotics: 
When we think of how to increase immune health, we often do not consider our gut's role in immune function. Our gut is actually our largest immune organ and contains both good and bad bacteria. Beneficial bacteria help to protect against the bad bacteria to maintain good health. Probiotics help to balance the good and bad bacteria in our guts and consequently help to increase our immune function.

  • Kefir is a fermented milk product that is an exceptional source of probiotics. Look for plain, unflavoured varieties to avoid extra added sugar. You can drink kefir on its own or add a cup to your favourite smoothies
  • Yogurt is also a source of probiotics, just make sure to check the ingredient list for 'active' or 'live cultures' to ensure your go to yogurt contains probiotics

5) Vitamin C: 
We often think of vitamin C as the cure all for the common cold. However, there is little evidence to suggest that vitamin C will help to actually shorten the duration of colds. Regardless, vitamin C has an important role in increasing the production of white blood cells needed to fight off infection. Vitamin C is found mainly in fruits and vegetables which should make up the bulk of our meals, independent of cold prevention.
  • Some foods that pack lots of vitamin C are: red peppers, kale, citrus fruit, broccoli and brussel sprouts.

6) Antioxidants: 
Antioxidants found in food (vitamins C, E, A, flavonoids, carotenoids, and selenium) have an important role in our immune health. They protect our bodies from damage caused by free radicals (a process that occurs when we are fighting off an infection). Incorporate foods high in antioxidants into your diet regularly -- not just when you're sick -- as antioxidants may help to prevent various diseases.

  • Foods rich in Vitamin C: red peppers, spinach, broccoli, brussel sprouts, strawberries, raspberries, kiwi, mango
  • Foods rich in Vitamin E: nuts and seeds, avocado, nut butters 
  • Foods rich in Carotenoids: sweet potato, squash, carrots, dark leafy greens, tomatoes 

7) Zinc:
Zinc is a mineral needed for the production of our immune cells. If you are looking for a food high in zinc, oysters are above and beyond the best source. Oysters contain almost 10 times the amount of zinc found in red meat. Other sources of zinc are pork, beef, turkey, chicken, and beans. 

8) Vitamin D:
Vitamin D not only keeps our bones healthy by helping our bodies absorb and use calcium, but also plays a large role in our bodies immunity. Salmon, trout, tuna, cod liver oil, and fortified milk products all contain good amounts of vitamin D. A vitamin D supplement of 1000IU should be part of your daily routine, especially in the winter, whether you consume foods high in vitamin D or not.

9) Ginger, Turmeric, & Garlic:
Both ginger and turmeric are known for their anti-inflammatory effects, while garlic has antiviral and antimicrobial properties. The compound allicin, found in raw garlic, produces antioxidants which are beneficial for our immune health. Try adding some ground ginger to hot water with a lemon slice for a nice hot beverage. Turmeric, garlic, and ginger can also all be added to soups for flavouring!

What not to have……..
Orange juice:
As mentioned above, there is some merit in the role vitamin C and cold prevention. However, next time you reach for a glass of orange juice when you are sick, you might want to reconsider. Orange juice is often packed with added sugar, beyond that of the natural sugar found in fruit. Try to choose whole fruit rather than juice to not only minimize your intake of added sugars, but to also get the beneficial fibre found in whole fruit which is missing from juice. If juice has been your go to when you're sick, try adding juice from whole fruit to water, such as lemon, orange, or grapefruit slices.

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