Think just because it's stopped getting dark at 4:30 that flu season is over? We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but despite a slowdown in reported cases, that bug could still be coming for you in February.
As Ottawa-based microbiologist and HuffPost Canada blogger Jason Tetro told Global News, "I’m pretty confident in saying we’ve seen the worst, but there’s still a ways to go.” He added that the flu generally sees a "second, smaller peak" in February.
While hopefully it won't infect you and your loved ones, there are some ways to protect yourself from getting the flu — and best of all, those ways are eating good food. According to Nema McGlynn, in-store dietitian at Loblaws' Maple Leafs Garden location, building up your immune system can stave off the sickness.
"Besides providing us with carbohydrates, fats and proteins, the nutrients we get from food contain a host of other vitamins and minerals, and they all play a part in our immune system and keep us healthy," explains McGlynn. "They often work together — which is why dietitians tell people to get nutrients from foods first, rather than supplements."
In the winter, when fresh fruits and vegetables are less readily available (and definitely more expensive) McGlynn recommends opting for frozen packages, and preferably those without sauces or seasonings on them.
"Most fruit and vegetables are picked at their peak, then flash frozen, which help retains a lot of their nutrients," she says. "It's an easier option, and they last longer because they're in the freezer. For Canadians in the winter, it's perfect, because they always have something they can grab."
But it's not fruits and veggies that will keep us healthy as this flu bug threatens to strike once again. Read on to discover the surprising foods that can fight back against illness, and keep immune systems strong:
"Berries are a source of vitamin C and are full of antioxidants," says Nema McGlynn, in-store dietitian at Loblaws' Maple Leafs Garden location. "Vitamin C is supposed to trigger the production of antibodies that will help the immune system."
Gulp down glasses of orange juice as soon as you suspect a cold is coming on? Well, you're definitely on the right track — the vitamin C in the citrus fruit has been shown to fight off bugs, thanks to its ability to help your body absorb iron. And it's also hard to overdose, as any excess vitamin C will be urinated out.
Like all citrus fruits, grapefruit is filled with vitamin C, which has been found to help alleviate cold symptoms and support the immune system. Just remember — check for warnings on any medication you might be taking, as grapefruit can react negatively with certain prescriptions.
"Sweet potato contains vitamin A, which prevents infections by keeping the skin and tissues of the mouth, stomach, lungs and intestines healthy," explains McGlynn. "Furthermore, a deficiency of vitamin A can impair immunity and increase the risk of infectious disease."
We might all associate vitamin C with orange-coloured fruit, but in fact, kiwis have more in them than an equivalent sized orange. In an Italian study, the fruit was also shown to help children with respiratory illnesses.
Papaya, another vitamin C favourite, has a second immune-boosting secret up its sleeve — papain. The compound, which is found naturally in the fruit, has been used to help with immune-system disorders. It apparently works by affecting leukocytes, the white blood cells that help defend against infections.
"Oysters are high in zinc, a mineral that helps strengthen the immune system and helps heal wounds," says McGlynn. And, of course, there's that bonus aphrodisiac effect too. Just be sure not to exceed your daily requirements.
The big winner when it comes to carrots and the immune system is vitamin A, which is found in this veggie in abundance. Vitamin A helps to strengthen the skin and "mucosal linings," which are the first barrier flu germs need to pass through.
It might be the trendiest salad ingredient around right now, but kale also has doses of vitamin A and C, making it a double-hitter in terms of immune boosts.
We might know fibre as the nutrient we want to regulate our bodily functions, but it also plays a role in our immune system in general — and spinach is chockful of it.
"We don't digest fibre, but there are certain components in fibre that helps feed the good components in our gut," explains McGlynn. "Some of these have been linked to helping the immune system."
Known as one of the world's best vegetables, there's a lot to be said for Swiss chard — but for the purposes of the immune system, it's good to focus on the zinc. Recent research has found zinc can help prevent inflammation in almost all parts of the body's immune system, making it a favoured addition when you're feeling ill.
Fish protein — especially in the form of salmon, tuna, halibut and mackerel — makes for a healthy meal that keeps on giving. "We all know that salmon is a great food source of omega-3s but it’s also loaded with vitamin D, a nutrient that many Canadians lack during the winter months due to limited sun exposure," says McGlynn. "Not only does this vitamin help reduce cancer risk; it also enhances the immune system which could provide protection from the flu."
Lean Ground Beef
In addition to zinc, lean ground beef contains protein and B12 for the immune system.
While your immune system doesn't need a particularly special amount of protein to function properly, it does help when your cells are sufficiently nourished. Chicken is well-known for being a healthy source of protein, but keep an eye to how it's cooked.
Like beef, turkey contains plenty of zinc, a great helper for the immune system. The neck, in particular, contains a fair amount of the nutrient.
You know the drill — beans have plenty of zinc in them, as well as protein (and it's protein without any of the cholesterol that comes with meat). They're a perfect accompaniment in soups, which you're already craving in the winter.
Nuts And Seeds
Almonds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are all beneficial to the immune system for being sources of protein, zinc and, in the case of almonds, vitamin E.
"Out of all the tree nuts, almonds are the highest in vitamin E," says McGlynn. "Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that acts as an antioxidant to help protect cells from damage."
PB&J sounding delicious right about now? Well, don't hold back — peanut butter, cashew butter and almond butter are all great sources of magnesium and potassium, which can help get that immune system revving.
In addition to fibre, lentils are a source of molybdenum, an antioxidant that helps the body break down harmful substances and works with iron to help the body absorb the nutrient better.