I've been careful to wash my hands often and stay away from any hint of anyone who says they are not feeling well. Then I feel this little tickle in my throat...and a few random coughs here and there. Uh oh.
Welcome to one of the worst flu seasons on record, says the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Time to take a little defensive inventory.
Flu shot, check. Glad my employer required it early in the season. Flu vaccines stimulate my immune system to develop antibodies that can fight the most common flu viruses. The CDC advises most everyone 6 months of age and older to get a flu shot every year. Exceptions include people allergic to eggs or those with an illness called Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
OK, so the flu vaccine causes my body to produce antibodies against flu viruses. My job is to make sure my immune system has the right ingredients to manufacture those protective substances. That's where nutrition comes in. When we consume foods that supply essential nutrients, we fortify our immune systems to search out and destroy disease-causing viruses (such as influenza) and bacteria that invade our bodies.
Protein is the key ingredient in the body's strong army of defense. Protein in the food we eat -- meat, fish, poultry, eggs, soy foods, milk products, nuts and beans -- is used to make the fighter pilots of our immune system. If protein is not in adequate supply, our body's ability to resist bad viruses and infections is weakened. Immune boosting protein at each meal is a good goal for most of us.
Vitamin C helps stimulate the manufacture of immune-boosting antibodies, say nutrition experts. And because vitamin C doesn't hang out in the body very long, we need to eat vitamin C-rich foods every day to maintain a strong defensive line. Here are some good sources to mix and match into your daily meals and snacks: oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, yellow, red and green bell peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, guava, papaya, green and red chiles and salsa. Yes!
Zinc is crucial in the fight against invading viruses and bacteria, say experts at the National Institutes of Health. All aspects of our immune function, including the manufacture of virus-fighting protein, are dependent on an adequate supply of zinc. This high-ranking mineral is especially abundant in protein-rich foods of animal origin such as lean meat, poultry, seafood and milk. Zinc is also found in whole grains (look for the 100 percent whole grain label), beans, seeds and nuts.
As usual, the more varied the foods we eat, the better chance our bodies have to get an adequate mixture of immune-strengthening ingredients. Let the fight begin!
(Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator affiliated with Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. She is the author of "Quinn-Essential Nutrition" (Westbow Press, 2015). Email her at to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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