LAKE OCONEE — The much-dreaded cold and flu season is upon us. How can you boost your defense against the germs lurking in the common areas in your office, the mall where you do your holiday shopping and the rest stops you encounter in your holiday travels? The strength of our immune system is what makes the difference between who gets sick and who doesn't. So before loading up on unneeded supplements, consider incorporating more of the following foods to help bump up your immune system and keep you healthy this cold and flu season.
- Broccoli- Readily available at the grocery store, broccoli is an immune-boosting basic. Plus, it's full of nutrients that protect your body from damage. It has vitamins A, vitamin C, and glutathione. Add some low-fat cheese which not only supplies additional calcium and protein, it’s also a source immune-enhancing B vitamins and vitamin D.
- Watermelon- Hydrating and refreshing, ripe watermelon also has plenty of a powerful antioxidant, glutathione. Known to help strengthen the immune system so it can fight infection, glutathione is found in the red pulpy flesh near the rind.
- Acai Berry- Marketed as a "super food" along with produce like blueberries, the dark color signals that it is high in antioxidants called anthocyanins. While the acai is not scientifically linked to specific disease- or illness-fighting ability, antioxidants may help your body fight aging and disease. Acai berries can be found most often in juice or smoothie form, or dried and mixed with granola.
- Oysters- Oysters are a good source of zinc, and zinc appears to have some antiviral effect, although researchers can't explain why. However, they do know it is important to several immune system tasks including healing wounds.
- Cabbage- This is a source of immune-strengthening glutamine. And cabbage is easy and inexpensive to find during the winter months when it's in season. Try adding cabbages of any variety (white, red, Chinese) to soups and stews to sneak in extra antioxidants and boost your meal's nutritional value.
- Almonds- A handful of almonds may shore up your immune system. A recommended 1/4 cup serving carries nearly 50% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin E, which helps boost the immune system. They also contain riboflavin and niacin, B vitamins that may help you bounce back from the effects of stress.
- Grapefruit- Grapefruits have a good amount of vitamin C. You can easily get enough vitamin C through foods alone, without supplementation, to help treat cold and flu. However, grapefruit is packed with flavonoids -- natural chemical compounds that have been found to increase immune system activation.
- Wheat Germ- Wheat germ is the part of a wheat seed that feeds a baby wheat plant, so it is full of nutrients. It has zinc, antioxidants, and B vitamins among other vital vitamins and minerals. Wheat germ also offers a good mix of fiber, protein, and some good fat.
- Low-Fat Yogurt- A daily cup may reduce your chances of getting a cold. Look for labels listing "live and active cultures." Some researchers believe they may stimulate your immune system to fight disease. Also look for vitamin D. Recent studies have found a link between low vitamin D levels and an increased risk of cold and flu.
- Garlic- Garlic offers several antioxidants that battle immune system invaders. Among garlic's targets are H. pylori, the bacteria associated with some ulcers and stomach cancer. Cooking tip: Peel, chop and let sit 15 to 20 minutes before cooking to activate immune-boosting enzymes.
- Spinach- Known as a "super food," spinach is nutrient-rich. It has folate, which helps your body produce new cells and repair DNA. And it boasts fiber, antioxidants, such as vitamin C, and more. Eat spinach raw or lightly cooked to get the most benefit.
- Tea- It doesn’t matter if it’s green or black, both are loaded with disease-fighting polyphenols and flavonoids. These antioxidants seek out cell-damaging free radicals and destroy them. Caffeinated and decaf work equally well.
- Sweet Potato- Like carrots, sweet potatoes have the antioxidant beta-carotene, which defends our body against damaging free radicals.
Lisa Eisele, RD, CSO, LD, can be reached at (706) 473-5801.