In her latest Ask the Nutritionist commentary, the National Restaurant Association’s Director of Food & Healthy Living Joy Dubost, Ph.D., R.D., provides tips for boosting the immune system by eating nutrient-rich foods.
As the seasons change, the risk of cold and flu can increase. Proper hygiene is one of the best defenses against spreading cold and flu, and eating the right foods can help your immune system perform at its best to resist the cold and flu bug.
When dining out, consider selecting menu items that are high in essential nutrients that help support a healthy immune system, including vitamin C, zinc and vitamin A (beta carotene).
Many fruits and vegetables are great sources of vitamins C and A, so a variety of salads (be mindful of dressings), prepared vegetables, fruit cups, and 100% juice are good choices. In order to pump up the levels of zinc in your diet, select items with whole grains (which also have other great health benefits!), nuts, legumes, various meats and oysters (be careful with raw). As a rule of thumb, high-protein food typically contain higher levels of zinc.
Other nutrients such as B6, folate, selenium, iron and copper can also help play a role in keeping your immune system strong. A well-balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, sources of protein (such as chicken breast or turkey, lean beef and pork, fish, nuts, legumes, and eggs), low-fat dairy, and complex carbohydrates (think whole grain pasta and brown rice) is needed to ensure adequate amounts of all of these nutrients.
Also, many of us lack vitamin D during the fall and winter months due to lack of exposure to the sun (the best source of vitamin D). However, you can get vitamin D in your diet through low-fat dairy, fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, and fortified products, such as 100% orange juice and soy or almond milk.
And don’t forget to consume fluids to prevent dehydration and fatigue. Fluid recommendations are 3.7 L (12 cups) for men and 2.7 L (8 cups) for women. Keep in mind that fruits and vegetables counts toward your daily fluid intake.