Expert Q&A: Can Your Diet Help You Avoid Flu?
An interview with Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD.
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.
Besides eating a healthy diet, what else can people do to prevent the
Get adequate sleep, regular exercise, reduce your stress level, drink plenty
of liquids, and eat a nutritious diet on a fairly regular schedule. Your immune
system stays active, promoting a steady supply of immune cells, when you eat
regularly and choose nutrient-rich foods. Studies have shown that moderate,
regular exercise can boost the immune system, so finding at least 30 minutes a
day to be active will help.
Good personal hygiene, including frequent and thorough hand-washing,
covering your nose and mouth with a disposable tissue (not a reusable
handkerchief), and minimal touching of your eyes, nose, and mouth will reduce
the spread of germs. In fact, good hygiene may be the most important defense in
fending off a virus.
How do you know if you have the flu?
Flu is a respiratory illness that can cause mild to severe symptoms. If your
symptoms are severe, see your doctor. Symptoms include:
- Fever, headache, fatigue.
- Dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffed nose.
- Muscle aches, diarrhea, and stomach symptoms (more commonly seen in