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

An interview with Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD.


Besides eating a healthy diet, what else can people do to prevent the flu?

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 children).

Stay home when you are contagious, getting plenty of rest. Most people are out 3-5 days, and should not return to work or school until they are fever-free for 24 hours.

What kind of diet should you follow when you have the flu?

Depending on the severity of the symptoms, eat what you can tolerate. Chicken soup and salty liquids are recommended because they encourage drinking and are very soothing. When your appetite improves, advance to soft solid foods like bananas, toast, and turkey. Fruit smoothies or protein shakes are sometimes well-tolerated when you don’t feel hungry. When you are feeling better, eat nutritious meals to promote wellness.

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Reviewed on December 01, 2009

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