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This flu season has certainly been a doozy! We usually see the height of the flu season in February, and already, the incidence of the flu is the highest in more than 10 years. The flu tends to target those with weakened immune systems such as infants, the elderly, and chemotherapy patients. This year, however, we are seeing it affect even seemingly healthy individuals – and the death toll across all groups is frightening.
Many people have asked what they can do, from a nutritional perspective, to boost their immunity and help offset the chance that they catch this year’s intense flu strain. Here are my advice:
Certain high protein foods, such as chicken, turkey, shellfish, beans, and nuts, are rich in zinc. Zinc helps boost the production of white blood cells and fight infection. During the height of the flu season, I recommend increasing lean protein by 3 to 4 servings per day or at least eat more than you normally would.
Your mom and grandma didn’t tell you to eat your fruits and veggies for no good reason! Many fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins A and C that strengthen your immune system. They also both contain strong antioxidant properties that will help defend your body from the spread of harmful viruses. Vitamin A is found in red and orange-colored fruits and veggies such as carrots, red bell peppers, mango, papaya, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes. We also get Vitamin A from dark green leafy vegetables. Vitamin C is found in all citrus fruits, like oranges, tangerines, and lemons, along with some other fruits such as strawberries and kiwis.
Your GI tract, or gastrointestinal tract, is closely linked to immunity. There have been numerous studies connecting a healthy GI tract with good overall health and the ability to fight off viruses and bacteria. Foods that contain probiotics build the good bacteria in your gut which can fight off germs that you’re exposed to. Foods that contain probiotics include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha, and kimchi.
Getting plenty of water and staying hydrated is crucial to optimal digestion and absorption of vitamins, minerals, protein, and probiotics. By maintaining optimal hydration, you are ensuring that your efforts to eat healthily will work. Eating healthy and not maintaining hydration can reduce the effectiveness of your nutrient intake.
The best way to “cleanse” your body and enhance immunity is to get regular exercise. The stronger your cardiovascular and musculature systems are, the easier it is for your body to fight off germs and viruses. So, my last piece of advice is to find an activity that you enjoy and do it often.
With a combination of a healthy diet and healthy lifestyle habits, you can strengthen your immune system and protect yourself during this vicious flu season and all throughout the year.
Jenn Giles, R.D., C.S.S.D. is all about health and wellness. She has over 15 years’ experience, including a dual master’s degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Columbia University. She is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She supplements all of this with her spin instructor certification and USATriathlon Level I Coach Certification.
Jennifer is passionate about (actually, obsessed with) the sport of triathlon. She has been personally participating in triathlons since 2000 and running road races since 1992. She is a two-time Ironman finisher and has completed countless numerous marathons. She has been a member of Power Bar Team Elite since 2006 and competed as a member of the 2006 Aquaphor/Active.com Sponsored Athlete Team. She was ranked as USAT All American Honorable mention in 2006 and 2011. Jennifer does all of this along side of her husband, Patrick, who is an equally accomplished triathlete and runner. They try as hard as they can to do all of their training and racing together.
She will tell you, however, that her most important, most rewarding and most challenging job is as a mother of four. She knows first hand the challenges of maintaining optimal fitness, overall good health and achieving goals while raising a family - of which good nutrition is the cornerstone.
Most importantly, she knows how to motivate, inspire and challenge athletes based on their own abilities, strengths and everyday lifestyles. She believes there is an athlete in everyone - no matter what their abilities are – and if those abilities are manifold, then there is an even better athlete in there!