Fight off the sniffles by giving your immune system a boost.
By Jasmine Li
Everywhere you go this time of year, people are coughing and sneezing. Because the virus lingers on objects and hangs in the air for hours, colds are easily spread even without close contact. Here are some easy ways to boost your immune system with a balanced diet of wholesome foods and essential nutrients.
Breakfast is for Champions
The cardinal rule of maintaining a healthy diet is to always eat breakfast. We're all in a rush, but eating a nourishing breakfast doesn't take a lot of time. "Five minutes is all you need," says Susan Fyshe, a nutritionist and registered dietician with Toronto's Healthy Lifestyle Nutrition Consulting. "Whole-grain cereals, whole-grain toast with peanut butter, or a couple of boiled eggs are quick and delicious ways to start the day." Opt for whole-grain in place of its processed, white-flour relatives.
Fruit and Vegetable Infusion
There's no way around this one. "Fruits and vegetables are nature's medicine," says Susan. "They're chock-full of nutrients and they're easy to get a hold of at the supermarket." Adults should be eating seven to 10 servings a day, so stock your fridge with leafy greens and colourful vegetables. Fruit is especially convenient, because they’re naturally packaged and sized for eating on-the-go.
Say Hello to Friendly Bacteria
Research has shown that probiotic foods go a long way in enhancing your immune system, but they won't help much if you wait until you're already sick. "Your body needs to be healthy beforehand, so it has plenty of resources to fight off a cold," explains Susan. Have a cup of yogurt with your breakfast, or eat it as a snack during the day. Be sure to check the labels and choose brands that contain live bacterial culture. If you're lactose intolerant, try a probiotic supplement.
Bring On the Vitamin C
Everyone knows to drink orange juice when they are sick, but vitamin C is actually found in many fruits and vegetables. "Up your intake at the first sign of a cold, when your body is working the hardest to minimize it," suggests Susan. Other fruit juices, kiwis, and red and green peppers are all great sources of vitamin C, so make them a regular part of your diet.
Good Quality Protein
Lean meat and meat alternatives are excellent sources of vitamin B, iron, and zinc, which are essential minerals for a strong immune system. Load up with two to three servings of poultry, fish, and low-fat dairy every day. Even if you're not a vegetarian, don't forget about tofu, lentils, and nuts.
Give Garlic a Second Chance
Garlic has long been touted for its many health benefits. In addition to helping the body lower LDL cholesterol levels, it's also proven useful in the fight against infection. "Raw garlic is an acquired taste," says Susan. "Social implications aside, it can add tremendous flavour to food." Chop up one-half to one whole clove and use it in salad dressings or sauces, or toss it with pasta. Fresh parsley can counteract the noxious effects of garlic breath, so chop up a few sprigs and add it to your dish before serving.
Down those Fluids
Drinking water helps to flush out toxins and prevent infections from settling in, so try to get at least eight glasses in your system daily. During a cold, water can also loosen mucus and keep the respiratory tract moist. Herbal teas and warm soups will soothe a sore throat and alleviate nasal congestion. Avoid alcohol, cola, and coffee, as they are very dehydrating.
Focus on Prevention
Eating a well-balanced diet is only one part of your fight against the cold. Getting enough sleep, decreasing stress, and taking time to exercise are all important ways to get a leg up on the virus. "Give your body what it needs," says Susan. "Most of the time, it can work very well for you." Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, and make it habit to wash your hands often. Since you can't protect yourself from being exposed, building and maintaining a healthy immune system is your best line of defence.