How to beat winter cold season

    The holiday season is upon us, and along with the festive lights and music, we often encounter the not-so-welcome sounds of coughing and sneezing.

    Unfortunately, winter colds and flu can be part of the holiday happenings. Health officials advise the two most important things you can do to ward off winter ills are to wash your hands and to try to steer clear of folks who have a cold.

    But what you eat and drink can make a difference, too. Good nutrition plays a starring role in keeping your immune system in high gear. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to mega-dose on certain vitamins or stock up on foods claiming to be “immune boosters.” It turns out there are no super foods to help you battle bacteria and viruses.

    However, a shortfall in the consumption of certain key nutrients can weaken your immune system so you’re more vulnerable to germs.

    What do immune cells need to be their fighting best?

    Registered dietitian Sharon Palmer, editor of Environmental Nutrition newsletter, says research points to a well-balanced diet including food sources of the mineral zinc and vitamins such as C, E and D as well as probiotics in yogurts: “It’s important to keep in mind that foods contain a synergy of nutrients that work in unison to provide health benefits versus supplements which only provide one or two nutrients. Here’s more reason to make every bite count, with delicious, whole foods bursting with nutrients.”

    It turns out the time-tested advice to eat your vegetables is the foundation for firming up immune function, too. The generous roasted root vegetable side dish served at Craft Atlanta offers a delicious solution for healthy dining out this winter. Chef Kevin Maxey oven-roasts a mix of parsnips, golden beets, rutabaga, winter squash and baby carrots tossed in olive oil and a little sherry vinegar.

    Diet to dodge the sniffles, or at least shorten their duration

    Vitamin C: Increases the production of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies to create protective coating on cell surfaces. The latest research, according to the National Institutes of Health, does little to support the belief that vitamin C’s a sure thing to prevent a cold, but it plays a key role in speeding recovery. Vitamin C-rich foods: orange juice, grapefruit, lemons, limes, tomatoes, strawberries and bell peppers. Flying this holiday season? Order a hydrating and healthy mix of half orange juice and half sparkling water from the in-flight drink cart.

    Vitamin E: Found to reduce the risk of upper respiratory infections such as the common cold. One of the most important antioxidant vitamins, it stimulates the production of natural killer cells that seek and destroy invading germs. Vitamin E-rich foods: nuts, olives, olive oil and leafy greens. Attention, holiday partygoers: People who don’t exercise; consume a lot of alcoholic beverages and smoke need even more vitamin E to support the immune system.

    Vitamin D: The “sunshine vitamin,” so called because our skin produces vitamin D when it’s exposed to sunlight, is emerging as a big player in the immune system. Hmm, could it be a coincidence that the incidence of cold and flu is up when we spend more time inside during the winter? Go out for a walk in the winter sun, and enjoy vitamin D-containing foods such as salmon, sardines and fortified milk products.

    Zinc: The body uses the mineral zinc to build infection-fighting T cells. The elderly are often deficient in zinc, so it’s an important nutrient to prioritize as we age. Many studies show zinc’s the thing to help shorten the duration of a cold. Zinc-rich foods: red meat, poultry, seafood (notably oysters), beans and nuts.

    Probiotics: Live cultures in yogurts increase beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract, which is the frontline defense of our immune system. Palmer says, “The gut is the largest immune organ in the body, accounting for 25 percent of immune cells.”

    Beta carotene: Found in orange-colored foods such as carrots, butternut squash, sweet potatoes and mangoes, this powerful plant antioxidant becomes immune-boosting vitamin A in the body.

    Mushrooms: Palmer’s focus on immune research for Environmental Nutrition found that mushrooms are capturing scientists’ attention. A 2007 study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that a powder made of white button mushrooms significantly increased killer cell activity when fed to laboratory mice. More palatable is the array of wild and foraged mushrooms consistently featured on Craft Atlanta’s menu. Feed your immune system and appetite for flavorful foods by ordering Maxey’s Winter Greens Salad with Roasted Hen of the Woods Mushrooms and Pumpkin Seed Brittle.

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    This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 30th, 2010 at 3:43 am and is filed under Health Notes. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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