More and more, nutritionists and food scientists are finding that what people put in their bodies directly affects their health and ability to ward off sickness. In fact, one expert found that the "Western diet" that contains high amounts of saturated fat, salt and refined sugars is the main cause behind a host of health issues. That's not even including that most Americans consume far too many artificial sweeteners and genetically modified foods. There's no telling what future research might find, but one thing is certain: Foods high in nutrients are always a good idea.
But how can you know which specific foods will help you fend off sickness, especially the flu? Here are six specific types of food to add to your diet and consume consistently — not just when you are feeling under the weather.
Refined carbohydrates appear to increase the body's inflammatory response which decreases our natural immunity and makes it more difficult to fight off infections both viral and bacterial. Our diet should contain plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and protein and less refined carbohydrates found in many quick and easy meals.
Staying hydrated is key to overall health and wellness. Water carries nutrients to every cell in your body, and a hydrated person's body has the necessary tools to fight off illness. Drink eight 8-ounce glasses each day, or more if you live in a hot climate and tend to sweat a lot. As you stay hydrated, your body will be able to keep up with normal functions like white blood cell production.
The live and active cultures are the key ingredient yogurt provides to bolster your immune system. Many studies cite the benefits of protein and calcium found in yogurt, but live cultures are proven to make you more resilient against sickness. A daily dose of low-sugar yogurt for breakfast or a snack will go a long way in building your immune system and gut health.
Fruits and vegetables are always encouraged, but especially to promote your immune health. Fresh fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants, including vitamins A, C and E. Sweet potatoes are a great example, with plenty of vitamin A to keep your skin healthy and free of open sores or abrasions that could potentially expose your body to infection and flu-causing viruses.
Dr. Alan Bybee, PA-C at MountainStar Healthcare, offered an easy way to include fresh fruits and veggies into your day. "One could make an easy breakfast or snack with low fat yogurt, blueberries and natural granola which would be a great way to help fight off viral infections by adding probiotics through the yogurt, antioxidants with the blueberries and great fiber with the natural granola."
Moms don't just make chicken soup because it's comforting. In fact, chicken soup is shown to provide vital health benefits, even if you are already coming down with something. The salty broth helps break down mucus, and chicken releases a vital amino acid called cysteine that is chemically similar to acetylcysteine, a common bronchitis medication. Don't forget about the onions and garlic; these two flavor providers also offer benefits like allicin, an infection-fighting compound. You also gain plenty of zinc from the chicken, which is essential for the production of white blood cells.
“Mothers have always known best,” Dr. Bybee added.
Fiber is vital to gut health, which in turn affects your overall immunity. Foods high in fiber will keep you regular and healthy enough to fight off infections. Look for foods high in antimicrobials, such as oats and even barley. Whether you get these in your breakfast cereal or a parfait, oats and barley boost immunity and may even help antibiotics be more effective. In fact, Dr. Bybee says natural steel rolled oats are a great source of fiber.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 20 percent of Americans get the flu each year. With hundreds of thousands hospitalized and thousands of deaths, it's unfortunate that so many fail to get a simple vaccine. Getting a flu shot is your first line of defense against the flu and its effects. Coupled with good hand hygiene and a healthy diet, you'll be well on your way to experiencing a flu-free flu season. Get your flu shot today at a MountainStar Health Clinic near you.
All in all, Dr. Bybee concludes, “We can all reduce our chance of any winter illness, especially the flu by eating healthy, drinking plenty of water, washing our hands regularly and making sure we get adequate sleep every night. Our bodies have a very difficult time fighting off infections without proper nutrition, hydration and rest. Most patients I see in the clinic for illness have failed to maintain one of these basic principles."
Stay flu-free this winter!