Fight the Flu… With Food! (Part 1)

Fall is here. Fall signifies the end of vacations and summer fun, crisp air, cool nights, colorful leaves…and the start of the flu season.

Having the flu, or influenza virus, isn’t a big deal for most people. But as most of you probably know, when you have diabetes, the flu can be serious. The flu is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract. While most people who have the flu may be miserable for a few days, they generally fight it off and recover after a week or so. But people with diabetes may have a harder time fighting off the flu — and if they do get the flu, it can be more severe, sometimes leading to pneumonia and requiring hospitalization.

In addition, as with any illness, the flu usually means higher blood glucose readings. It can be harder to control your glucose levels when you’re sick. The American Diabetes Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly recommend that people with diabetes get a flu shot every year (yep, this is an annual thing). While a flu shot is not a guarantee that you won’t get the flu, it can certainly help. Try to get your flu shot in September and keep in mind that it takes about two weeks for it to take effect. It’s also a good idea to encourage those that live with you to get a flu shot too, not only because it can protect them, but also because it means you’ll be less likely to come down with it.


As a quick reminder, here are some symptoms of the flu:

Call your provider if you develop any of these symptoms. There are medicines that can help lessen the duration of the flu. You’ll also have to be vigilant about checking your blood glucose, and you may need to take more diabetes medicine or insulin.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could prevent the flu in the first place? The flu vaccine is the first step, along with proper hand washing and other hygienic measures. But you may be able to do more. The key is to bolster your immune system so that it can fight off the flu virus and any other nasty thing that comes down the pike, including bacteria, fungi, and parasites. Sure, there are no guarantees, but a healthy diet can help your immune system. So, grab a pen and paper and make sure these foods are on your weekly shopping list:

Protein. OK, you’re probably getting more than you need, but it’s worth emphasizing, since your immune system is actually partially made up of protein. Focus on high-quality, lean protein sources, such as poultry, fish, seafood, soy, and low-fat dairy foods, including milk and yogurt. There’s some evidence that getting about 20 grams of whey protein each day can give the immune system a boost. You can purchase whey protein at a health-food store in powder form and stir it into yogurt, cottage cheese, milk, and cereal. Check with your dietitian or provider before adding additional protein to your eating plan if you have kidney or liver disease, however.

Fat. Liquid vegetable oils help keep the body’s cells supple and better able to fight off invaders. Make sure your diet includes healthful oils such as olive, canola, and safflower oil, as well as nuts, avocados, and all-natural peanut butter.

Citrus fruits. Oranges, lemons, limes, tangerines, and grapefruit are rich in vitamin C, an antioxidant[1] vitamin that’s necessary for immune function. If you don’t care for or can’t eat citrus fruits, focus on other fruits and vegetables that contain vitamin C, such as tomatoes, green peppers, and strawberries. Dietary guidelines tell us to eat about 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables every day.

Chicken soup. Otherwise known as “Grandma’s penicillin,” the healing power of chicken soup may be more than an old wives’ tale. Believe it or not, research shows that chicken soup may block the effect of a type of white blood cell in the body, which, in turn, helps to thin mucus. Plus, other ingredients in the soup can help, such as vegetables. And the steamy warmth of the broth is just what the doctor ordered for soothing a scratchy throat and unclogging nasal passages.

More “flu-fighter foods” next week!

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Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin. Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.

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