Fight the Flu with Food [10 Remedies ]

If your drugstore has been picked clean of hand sanitizer, decongestant, and tissues, then it must be flu season. Starting in the fall and ending in the spring, some 5% to 20% of us -- maybe even 25% this year, since there are two types of flu going around -- will be sidelined by the flu's famous fever, sore throat, cough, headache, runny nose, and aching muscles.

Even if you got your flu shots (and we're hoping you got both), you can still be a statistic. So it makes sense to do everything possible to prevent the flu from hitting you. That means keeping your paws clean, exercising daily, getting enough ZZZs, controlling stress by meditating or calling friends, and eating right. Although there's no single superfood that can protect you from this malevolent malady -- not even chicken soup (sorry, Mom; although the soup can shorten the flu's duration) -- focusing on the dietary big picture can help. Filling your plate with a horde of healthy foods can deliver the many nutrients you need in order to fortify your immune system against attacks of many types. These guidelines make it easy:

Check out 10 cold and flu remedies that really work.

  • Give me an A. Vitamin A keeps the lining of your nasal and respiratory passages in tip-top shape so they can defend against invaders. It's so important for fighting infection that even a small deficiency boosts your risk of respiratory ills. That said, too much vitamin A in supplement form can cause birth defects and raise the odds of osteoporosis in older folks. That's why we recommend a food-first strategy. Conveniently, this is the time of year when loads of A-rich foods are in season. Get yours from bright orange and dark green veggies like sweet potatoes, winter squash, carrots, spinach, kale, and collard greens.

  • Power up with protein. Protein doesn't just help build strong muscles; it also provides the raw materials your body needs to manufacture disease-busting antibodies. And more antibodies means less infection. Luckily, getting enough protein is pretty easy because you only need about a quarter of a gram for every pound you weigh.

But getting the right type is another story. Many protein-heavy foods come with a side of inflammation-encouraging saturated fat. So steer clear of steak, dark-meat poultry, and full-fat cheese, and instead stick with low-fat dairy, skinless white-meat chicken, ground turkey breast, tofu, fish, nuts, and beans.
  • C the light. You've heard vitamin C can help you get over a cold. Well, it may also protect your lungs from flu damage. How? By helping your body crank out protective immune cells known as chemokines and cytokines. These supreme defenders send out smoke signals throughout your body, telling it that it's infection-fighting time. 

So go ahead and drink your OJ, but don't stop there. For a healthy dose of C, plus a heap of other immunity-enhancing flavonoids, dig into produce superstars, including strawberries, bell peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, and kiwifruits.
  • Defend with D. Vitamin D3 strengthens your immune system's capabilities, but 80% to 90% of us who live outside the Sunbelt come up short on this vitamin in winter. So select D3 off the shelf, and get 1,000 international units (IU) a day. Take it with a little fat so it will be absorbed.
  • Choose friendly fats. What do walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, olive oil, and avocados have in common? They're all healthy fats. And they help you absorb vitamins A and D. Plus, they decrease inflammation, meaning you'll suffer less with the flu if you've stoked your system with them.

  • Manage body fat. Eating more than you need doesn't just give you a muffin top; it can also weaken your resistance. The skinny from University of North Carolina researchers is that too much body fat suppresses your personal army of inflammation fighters -- compounds with names like tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interleukin-6. When the Carolina scientists looked at the flu's effects on mice that were lean compared with mice that were pudgy, they saw that the fatter ones were less likely to survive the flu and more likely to suffer complications.

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