Expert Q&A: Can Your Diet Help You Avoid Flu?
An interview with Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD.
The healthier you are, the healthier your immune system -- your body’s "coat
of armor" to protect you from all kinds of diseases. In order to prevent
seasonal influenza and other germs that can make you sick, you need to make
sure your immune system is healthy. The American Dietetic Association says
eating healthfully is a great way to boost immunity and prevent flu. Diets that
are plentiful in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy,
healthy fats, and more can provide a wide array of nutrients and antioxidants
that can help boost the immune system.
Are there certain foods that fight flu?
Some experts tout specific immune-boosting foods and beverages like
broccoli, red peppers, tea, sweet potatoes, and garlic. But it is more
important to eat a wide variety of healthy foods from all food groups to boost
your body’s immune system. There is no guarantee that eating certain foods will
fend off infection, but we do know that your immune response or susceptibility
to infection can be enhanced with overall good nutrition. Almost any fruit or
vegetable is a good choice, especially ones rich in antioxidants --vitamins A,
C, E and selenium, zinc, and beta carotene -- that help immune cells work
Lean protein is also important, because the immune molecules are made of
Are there specific nutrients that play a role in bolstering
Preliminary research suggests low levels of vitamin D may be linked to an
increase in seasonal colds and flu and an increased incidence of respiratory
infections. Omega-3 fatty acids from foods like salmon may also play a role in
promoting immunity. Most Americans fall short when it comes to getting enough
of these nutrients, and would benefit from eating fatty fish twice a week and
taking a supplement of vitamin D to boost immunity.
Can foods that contain healthy bacteria help prevent the flu?
Foods like yogurt contain probiotics, which add healthy bacteria to the
intestinal track. A healthy gastrointestinal track can bolster your defense and
help resist flu viruses. Choose yogurts with active cultures that are also
fortified with vitamin D to promote a healthy gastrointestinal track and help
meet your requirement for three servings a day of low-fat dairy.