It's officially fall. Children are back in school and we're returning to our post-summer routine. Just as we get into the swing of things, you or one of your little one's comes down with a bug. If you and your family are lucky and haven't caught anything yet, it's time to give your immune system a boost to help keep everyone healthy with the foods you eat.
1) Load your cart with nutrients from whole foods
While it's easy to pop a pill, supplements won't carry the complex combination of vitamins, minerals, energy-yielding nutrients and antioxidants you can get from foods. Instead of reaching for supplements, choose whole foods.
One of the most popular supplements during cold and flu season is Vitamin C. Vitamin C plays an important role in our immune systems as it stimulates the production and function of our white blood cells. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Vitamin C is 75mg per day for women and 90mg per day for men. However, some experts believe we should be taking up to 200mg per day. Although this may sound like a lot, just ½ cup of raw yellow peppers provides 144mg.
Our immune system needs zinc to function properly and it plays a vital role in the growth and development of children and teens. Adult women need 8mg of zinc a day and adult men 11mg per day. So, which foods are your best bets? Think protein-rich foods. One of the best sources is oysters! A 75mg serving provides at least 24mg of Zinc. Don't care for oysters or not sure your kids will? Try beef, pork or turkey, and if you prefer a meatless option, baked beans, pumpkin or squash seeds.
Living in a northern climate can make it difficult to get the Vitamin D - aka sunshine vitamin - we need, especially during the winter, so this is one you may want to consider taking as a supplement.
Beyond a pill supplement, one of the best natural food sources of Vitamin D is salmon - a 75g serving of baked or broiled sockeye salmon provides close to half of your recommended daily intake. The RDA for Vitamin D is 600 IU (15 mcg) per day for children and adults up to 70 years of age. However, the Canadian Cancer Society recommends 1000 IU per day for all Canadians.
Interestingly, scientists point out a higher likelihood of respiratory infections in children, as well as a higher likelihood of cough, cold and upper respiratory tract infections in adults, with low Vitamin D levels.
This is just the tip of the vitamins and minerals iceberg - there are many more involved in immunity, including Vitamin E, A, B12, folate and selenium.
2) Consider probiotics
We've all heard the term, but what exactly are they? Probiotics are "live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host." They stimulate the immune system and may contribute to reducing the incidence and duration of common upper respiratory tract infections. But before you go grabbing any product with the word "probiotic" on it, you need to make sure you're getting the right strain and dosage. Have you ever noticed the numbers or letters at the end of the name of a bacterium? Those refer to the strain.
Not all probiotics are going to work the same in your body. Some may be used to prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea, while another may help lower total cholesterol. You want to make sure you're getting the right one!
Your best defense again cold and flu season is prevention. When it comes to beneficial bacteria, go for fermented foods such as kefir, fresh kimchi and sauerkraut, tempeh and miso. Try a miso soup or a smoothie made with kefir. Eating these foods may not only reduce your risk of developing some diseases, but may also help enhance the health of your gut!
3) Expose your kids to new foods
Introduce your family to ingredients that contain the vitamins and nutrients they need for immune health, plus their growth development. Try exposing kids to ingredients of different colours and textures to increase their comfort with new foods. Add the new ingredients to multiple meals to make the family accustomed to eating them. If they refuse to eat them at first, don't give up - sometimes it can take more than 10 attempts before kids are willing to dig in. If your children are eating several different foods, chances are they'll be getting the nutrients they need for a strong immune system.
4) Connect with the experts
From the food aisle to the pharmacy, your local grocery store has many products that can help you support your immune system during the cold and flu season. If you're not sure where to start, make an appointment with your local dietitian.
Your pharmacist is also a great resource for tips on how to stay healthy this fall and winter. One if the best ways to prevent the flu is by getting your flu shot, available at pharmacies across the country starting in mid-October.
This year, let's work together to get healthy and stay healthy!
Néma McGlynn is a registered dietitian with Loblaws. She is part of a network of more than 76 dietitians who provide free services like one-on-one consultations, assisted shopping, school tours and recipe ideas at locations across the country.
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