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Use nutrition to help prevent colds & flu this winter

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Good nutrition is essential to a strong immune system.  Keeping the body well-nourished during winter can be difficult, but it's crucial to prevent weight gain and ward off those pesky germs.

A healthy immune system can help prevent infection with colds and flu and can even minimize the duration of a cold.  Protein, vitamins A, C and E, zinc, selenium, and probiotics have all been linked with immune response. Registered Dietitian Cheryl Meyer has compiled list of nutrients and foods to help support your immune system this winter:

  • Protein is an essential part of your body’s defence system. Sources of protein include lean meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, legumes, soy products and unsalted nuts and seeds.
  • Vitamin A helps prevent infections by keeping the skin and tissues in the mouth, stomach, lungs and intestines healthy. This nutrient, found in sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach and red bell peppers, also helps the body regulate the immune system.
  • Zinc is important for a healthy immune system and proper growth. Find zinc in lean red meat, fish and poultry as well as wholegrain cereals, legumes, reduced-fat dairy foods and nuts.
  • Selenium is an antioxidant that works with vitamin E to keep you healthy. Find it in seafood, whole-grain cereal, wheat germ to oatmeal, lean meats or Brazil nuts. People who want to get more vitamin E in their diet should eat sunflower seeds, almonds, sunflower or safflower oil, hazelnuts, peanut butter or spinach.
  • Include yoghurt in your diet.  Regularly eating probiotics or “good bacteria” found in foods like yogurt and sauerkraut, may help your immune system work better and improve digestion. 
  • Vitamin C has been shown to help fight infection by enhancing immune function, and can be sourced from a myriad of fruits and vegetables. The most obvious sources are citrus fruits (oranges, mandarins, grapefruit and lemons), which are in season in winter.  But if you’re looking for sources beyond those, consider bell peppers, broccoli and kiwifruit, which are also a source of of Vitamin C.
  • Be sure to start the day with a healthy breakfast. Missing breakfast can be linked to susceptibility to illnesses.  Try oats porridge with low fat milk, or poached or boiled eggs on wholegrain toast, and some fruit.
  • Healthy eating and energy intake can impact the immune system and function. Very low calorie or very high calorie diets can decrease our immune function and impact rates of infection and illness. It is important to keep track of what you eat as well as how much you eat and drink.

It’s important to keep in mind that foods contain a synergy of nutrients that work in unison to provide health benefits versus supplements, which only provide one or two nutrients. The best approach for fostering a healthy immune system is to eat a nutritious diet that meets all your body’s needs – even more reason to make every bite count, with delicious, whole foods bursting with nutrients.

Subscribe to Cheryl’s blog for regular nutrition-related articles here:

For any further information, please contact the Pick n Pay Health Hotline dietitian, Leanne Tee on 0800 11 22 88 or e-mail her on healthhotline@pnp.co.za.

For details of a registered dietitian in your area, go to the ADSA (Association of Dietetics in SA) website at www.adsa.org.za

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