When you think flu prevention, you might think of immunization first, but that’s not the only tool we have for staying healthy. It’s also important to wash your hands, get enough sleep, stay hydrated, stay active, and eat whole, nutritious foods to keep your immune system strong and able to fight off viruses throughout the cold and flu season.
I had a chance to chat with the registered dietitian at my local Superstore, Brittany Thomas, MHSc, to discover the best foods to focus on this time of year for a healthy immune system.
- Think orange when you’re shopping in the produce section. Orange fruit like citrus, grapefruit, oranges, and mangoes are rich in vitamin C, and orange veggies like sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, and bell peppers (all colours) are high in vitamin A. Did you know that bell peppers are a better source of vitamin C than even oranges?
- Legumes like beans and lentils provide fiber and zinc necessary for normal immune function, energy metabolism, and growth. For those of us who avoid beans or pulses, high-quality meats and seafood (especially shellfish) are also excellent sources of zinc, and many fruit and vegetables also provide fiber. Good sources include raspberries, blackberries, pears, apples, avocados, artichokes, peas, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
- Nuts and seeds provide protein, fiber, and vitamin E, a dietary antioxidant that helps in the maintenance of good health. Almonds and hazelnuts are great sources of vitamin E, but limit portions to 1/4 cup. Looking for a tasty nut and seed snack? Try this grain-free granola made with almonds, cashews, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, coconut, and flax seeds.
- Probiotics help moderate healthy immune function. You can find probiotics in yogurt (avoid added sugar) and in kefir (try adding kefir to your smoothies). If you don’t eat dairy, you can find probiotics in non-dairy sources like kombucha, sauerkraut, or fermented products like tempeh. Getting probiotics from food instead of probiotic supplements allows you to reap the benefit of other nutrients in the food, like protein and calcium.
- Protein is important for overall health and for building antibodies, so choose foods with plenty of protein like high-quality meats, seafood, eggs, milk, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
The team of 70 registered dietitians at Loblaws stores is an amazing resource for all of us wanting to prepare for cold and flu season with foods and recipes to promote good immune health. They answer your questions in store, on the phone, and via email. You can also book a consultation with your local dietitian to review your current health status, diet, and lifestyle and get evidence-based recommendations to help you meet your goals from meal planning ideas, help reading food labels, to how to order the healthiest options at a restaurant.
Dietitians also provide medical nutrition therapy. So if you or a family member has type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, celiac disease, food allergies, or other medical concerns, a dietitian can help you learn how to adjust your diet to meet all your nutritional needs within your personal parameters.
Got a picky eater? Brittany had some advice for parents with picky eaters too (I might know a little thing about that!). Role model the behaviour that you’d like to see. If you want your kids to eat more veggies, you should too. As difficult as it may be in the moment at the dinner table, avoid forcing, bribing, or using food as a punishment or a reward. Since it can take up to 10 exposures to a new food for a child to try it, just keep offering. Offer at least one food that you know your child will eat at every meal so they have something to eat, even if they’re not yet ready to try a new food.
Visit your local Loblaws or Superstore to book an appointment with an in-store registered dietitian for more information on foods that help support good overall and immune health during cold and flu season and year round.
Wash Your Hands
To limit the spread of germs, wash your hands frequently throughout the day. Teach your kids how to wash their hands properly too: with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, scrubbing the front, back, between their fingers, and under their nails.
Get Your Flu Shot
If you’ve ever had the flu, you don’t need anyone to tell you just how miserable it is. Flu symptoms start one to four days after being exposed to the virus and include feeling feverish, chills, headaches, sore throat, body and muscle aches, fatigue, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. The flu typically lasts seven to 10 days, but could persist for up to two or even three weeks. Flu season runs from November through to March/April, so right now is the best time to get vaccinated. Once vaccinated, protection will last roughly six months, but be aware that it can take up to two weeks for it to take effect.
According to the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, everyone should get the flu vaccine, but it’s most important for vulnerable individuals like seniors 65 years of age and older; healthy children 6 months to 5 years of age; healthy pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy; and children and adults with chronic medical conditions. Depending on how well the vaccine is matched to this year’s common viruses, 40-60% of flu cases can be avoided through vaccination.
Spending a few minutes getting vaccinated could save you 14 days of misery! Do your shopping and get your flu shot all at the same time when you visit your local Real Canadian Superstore.
Win a $100 President’s Choice Gift Card
I’m giving away a $100 President’s Choice gift card to one lucky family to help you start stocking up on healthy, nutritious food. Tell us what you do to help your family get through the flu season. Share your best flu prevention tips or your go-to comfort meal when you’re sick.
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Disclosure: This is a sponsored conversation. Nevertheless, all opinions in this post are completely honest and my own. Your experience may differ.