There are many ways to fight the flu including washing hands, sleeping enough, and getting a flu shot. But nutrition plays a key role in keeping your family’s immune system strong. That’s because nutrition deficiencies compromise the body’s (cells’) ability to effectively ward off disease. Research shows that specific nutrients are especially important for a functioning immune system.
So with flu season upon us, here are 10 easy ways to bolster your family’s defenses with everyday foods.
1. Have an orange a day
During infections and stress, vitamin C levels decline. Because vitamin C helps maintain the integrity of disease-fighting cells, low levels can compromise the body’s ability to fight back. Other vitamin C-rich fruits include strawberries, cantaloupe, kiwi, and mango.
2. Make yogurt a regular snack
The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is the largest organ involved in the immune system. Yogurt contains live and active cultures, healthy bacteria called probiotics that are health food for the gut. Look for yogurts with the Live and Active seal.
3. Top that yogurt with some nuts
Nuts are a good source of magnesium which plays a role in the development and function of immune cells. Remember nuts can be a choking hazard for young children. I get the unsalted dry toasted sliced almonds from Trader Joe’s – they are super-crunchy and perfect for yogurt.
4. Supplement with D
Vitamin D plays a role in the immune response and some studies suggest it can decrease the risk of getting the flu. Additionally, levels are likely to be lower in the fall and winter when the sun shines less often. See this post on vitamin D to see if you need to supplement. The recommended amount for people over 1 is 600IU.
5. Make winter squash a menu mainstay
One of my favorite fall foods is vitamin A-rich butternut squash. Research shows that adequate dietary intake of vitamin A is clearly needed for a strong immune system. Erin from 5 Dollar Dinners shows how easy it is to bake butternut squash. Your kids will love it!
6. Get milk
Milk contains the micronutrient copper. Deficiencies of copper can adversely affect the immune response. Don’t worry if milk is not your family’s thing as copper can be found in a variety of foods including whole grains, nuts, seeds, and chickpeas.
7. Make room for protein at meals
Red meat, poultry, beans, and nuts are all good sources of zinc, the most studied nutrient when it comes to the immune system. A zinc deficiency can wreak havoc on the body’s ability to fight infections.
8. Be smart about fats
Studies suggest that getting “in balance” with fat can help the body in disease-fighting mode. That means decreasing saturated fats and increasing polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats in the diet. So try cooking with olive and canola oils, eating fatty fish, and choosing lean meats.
9. Spread avocado on a turkey or cheese sandwich
Avocados are an excellent source of vitamin E, an antioxidant that protects cells from the damage of free radicals. If you don’t love avocado there is plenty of vitamin E in wheat germ, nuts and seeds, and vegetable oils.
10. Have eggs for breakfast
Eggs are an excellent source of selenium. Through complicated biological processes, selenium helps prevent the formation of disease-causing free radicals. Not a big fan of eggs? Other sources include brazil nuts, fish (especially tuna), beef and rice.
Armed with a strong immune system, your family will be ready to fight the flu this season. And what family doesn’t want that?
Want detailed feeding charts, step-by-step guidance, and real-life feeding examples for feeding children of all ages? Check out Maryann’s book Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters From High Chair to High School.
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