Fight the Flu… With Food! (Part 2)

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Did you get your flu shot yet? It’s hard to even think of getting the flu, especially with the balmy weather we had in New England on Saturday (a high of 88 degrees!). But cold weather is on the way, and while it’s always tempting to snuggle up in bed when the snow flies, you don’t want to do so with a fever, muscle aches, and a sore throat. I should mention, too, that the 2010–2011 flu shot will protect against the 2009 H1N1 virus, as well as two other strains of flu virus. And don’t forget to get a pneumonia vaccine if you need one, since pneumonia is a possible complication of the flu.

Last week, I mentioned some foods that may be helpful in the flu fight. Of course, eating these foods isn’t a guarantee that you won’t get sick. And besides getting your flu shot, regular hand washing, covering your mouth when you cough and sneeze, and limiting your contact with sick people are also part of the fight against the flu. But back to foods. What’s in your kitchen that might be helpful?

Garlic. Sure, it’s great at warding off vampires, but garlic may actually ward off the flu and the common cold. A compound in garlic called allicin, which is an antioxidant, can reduce the risk of getting a cold by about 50% and may also fight the flu virus. Allicin is also a good decongestant. Try a garlic tea by steeping a chopped garlic clove in boiling water for several minutes. Let it cool, but drink it while it’s warm. Drink one cup every day.

Sweet potatoes. Fall is the perfect time to enjoy these orange beauties. Sweet potatoes are packed with a lot of good things. They’re particularly high in vitamin A (in the form of beta carotene) and have a decent amount of vitamin C, as well. Both of these vitamins are antioxidants, so right there you have two protectors. And besides their antioxidant role, vitamins A and C are needed to keep your immune system in working order, helping to make white blood cells that fight off bacteria and viruses (including the flu virus). Vitamin A also keeps your skin and mucous membranes healthy, both of which serve as barriers to bacteria and viruses. Sweet potatoes are delicious when eaten baked, but try cutting them into French fry-shaped sticks and make healthy oven fries. Or cut them into cubes and add to your favorite soup or stew recipe.

Green tea. Is there anything that green tea doesn’t do? It seems that green tea has been practically touted as a miracle beverage; it’s linked to lowering the risk for heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Can it also protect you against the flu? Studies hint that both green and white tea (which have more flavonoids than black tea) have antiviral properties. The catechins in the tea appear to inhibit flu virus replication (in plain English, this means that the virus can’t make copies of itself, which is a good thing!). It’s hard to say how much green tea you’d have to drink, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to drink a couple of cups each day.

Yogurt. Don’t take this the wrong way, but yogurt is teeming with bacteria. This sounds awful, but the truth is that the bacteria in yogurt are actually really good for us. Called probiotics, yogurt bacteria are thought to be helpful for a whole host of health reasons, including warding off the flu and cold viruses. How this works isn’t exactly known, but researchers think that the probiotics may somehow stimulate the immune system into doing a better job of defending us against harmful viruses. Try to eat a cup of nonfat or low-fat yogurt (preferably unsweetened) every day. Look for yogurts that say “live and active cultures” on the container.

Beef…and other foods. What? Can this be true? Beef fights the flu? Well, in part, beef may help. Beef contains zinc, a mineral that, among other things, keeps our immune system healthy. We have to consume sources of zinc every day because our bodies don’t store it very well. Adults need between 8 and 11 milligrams of zinc each day; beef just so happens to be a great source of zinc, with 3 ounces providing almost 9 milligrams. But don’t be fooled into thinking that this is an excuse to chow down on a 12-ounce prime rib every night. Choose lean cuts of beef and watch those portions. If you’re not a beef-eater, you can get zinc from oysters, crab, chicken, pork tenderloin, and fortified cereals. Chances are, too, that your multivitamin/mineral contains zinc, so no need to overdo it. Zinc toxicity is no fun and can be quite serious.

Remember, eating a variety of foods can help you stay healthy year round. Also, besides eating healthfully, take care of yourself. Get rest, don’t smoke, and get plenty of physical activity. If you get the flu and run a high fever, start spilling ketones, have high or low blood glucose that doesn’t resolve, or have trouble breathing, call your health-care provider for further guidance.

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