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Expert Q&A: Can Your Diet Help You Avoid Flu?

An interview with Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD.
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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 optimally.

Lean protein is also important, because the immune molecules are made of protein.

Are there specific nutrients that play a role in bolstering immunity?

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.

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