It's officially cold and flu season, which means that for the next few months everyone will be dodging sneezy people to avoid germs and bugs, wrapping up with extra layers, cranking up the heat at home, and topping up their vitamin intake.
We all want to avoid getting a cold or flu, and you may think that it’s inevitable to succumb to the symptoms like congestion and fever, but there are some key nutritional factors that can help protect you from falling ill.
How to prevent cold and flu naturally
For optimal health, it requires your diet to provide vitamins and minerals, protein, and essential fat.
Vitamins and minerals act as antioxidants in the body, protecting us against chemicals (free radicals) produced by both pathogens and our own immune system during an infection. By disarming free radicals, these nutrients help to weaken an invading virus.
The gut is where the vast majority of our immune reactions occur – where the outside world with its toxins and pathogens comes into close contact with the body. Therefore, to protect yourself from getting the flu, support your gut with the following:
Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that boost and support a healthy immune system. You can improve your gut health by eating probiotic foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi pickles, natural yoghurt, apple cider vinegar, and kefir water. You can also consider taking a good quality probiotic supplement. Speak to a Nutritional Therapist to help find the right product for you.
Try to avoid a diet laden with sugar, as sugar feeds the harmful bacteria which upsets the careful balance in your microbiome. Instead, a diet rich in fibre and low in sugar and refined carbs can help support your gut and ward off winter cold and flu.
2. Vitamin C
This vitamin is particularly powerful against viruses as it’s a strong antibacterial and an important antioxidant. It also supports the adrenal glands in the body helping us to deal with stress – a culprit that reduces immunity levels leaving you more prone to catching a cold or flu.
The NHS recommends that adults aged 19 to 64 need 40mg of vitamin C a day (1). As vitamin C can’t be stored in the body, it’s best to try and get all that you can from your diet. When you feel the symptoms like a sore throat coming on, foods like parsley, red peppers, dark green leafy vegetables, kiwi, blueberries, blackcurrants, citrus fruits, and tomatoes can help. You can supplement 1g a day if you are more prone to colds during the winter.
3. Vitamin A
This vitamin is important for the body’s first line of defence against invaders, and helps to keep your lungs, digestive tract, and skin intact. Vitamin A strengthens cell walls and helps to block viruses out, helping you avoid getting sick in winter and beat a common cold. Opt for natural vitamin A-rich foods like carrots, spinach, and kale.
4. Vitamin E
This vitamin reduces our susceptibility to infections by improving immune cell function. Some of the best food sources include nuts, seeds, wheat germ, cold pressed nut, and seed oils – you can use these in your salad dressings!
Zinc is a vital immune-boosting mineral and important antioxidant. It’s needed for the production and function of white blood cells in the body. White blood cells are the cells of the immune system that are involved in protecting the body against both infectious disease and foreign invaders. Some of the best food sources of zinc are seeds, dark green leafy vegetables, shellfish, and chicken.
6. B vitamins
In particular, vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid are vital for the production of antibodies which circulate in the blood and other body fluids, defending against invading bacteria and viruses.
According to the British Dietetic Association, folic acid is vital for making red blood cells, as well as the synthesis and repair of DNA, aiding rapid cell division and growth, and enhancing brain health (2).
Some of the best food sources of folic acid are fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, and beans.
Vitamin B6 helps the body form haemoglobin – the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body, important to fend off symptoms of cold and flu. Some foods rich in vitamin B6 are dark leafy green vegetables, papayas, cantaloupe melon, beans, chicken, and fish.
Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps keep the body's nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA, the genetic material in all cells. Vitamin B12 also helps prevent a type of anemia called megaloblastic anemia that makes people tired and weak. Choose foods like fish, chicken, meat, eggs, and dairy if you can. If you’re vegan, ask your Nutritional Therapist to recommend an appropriate supplement.
Last but certainly not least, garlic is both an anti viral and antibacterial powerhouse. Garlic contains allicin and is also rich in sulphur and amino acids which all have antioxidant properties.
Studies have shown that garlic reduces the risk of becoming sick in the first place, as well as how long you stay sick. It can also reduce the severity of symptoms of cold and flu, like fever, the shakes, congestion, cough and more (3).
In fact, a study found that colds were on average 61% shorter for individuals who ate 2.56 grams of aged garlic extract per day, compared to a placebo group. Their colds were also less severe (3).
If you often get sick with a cold or flu, eating garlic can help reduce your symptoms or prevent your illness entirely.
It’s all about prevention when it comes to avoiding cold and flu. The body functions at its best when supplied with the vitamins and nutrients it needs, so stock up on these delicious and nutritious foods so you can stay happy and healthy all winter long. Should you have any dietary questions, please speak to your Nutritional Therapist.