Cold and flu season is well and truly upon us and it is a doozy this year! The flu especially brings cause for concern with its severity sending many of us to get our flu jabs at our nearest clinic or pharmacy. If you haven’t got yours I recommend you do so as soon as you can. I promise it isn’t a scary one. I hardly felt a thing and it is affordable at around $20 at a pharmacy. You can of course still catch a cold with the flu jab. They are very different conditions yet often confused.
When it comes to immunity you can give yourself a little boost this time of year though. Most people know about the benefits of vitamin C and many people seek it out over the colder months, however there are other nutrients that can also help. Below I have a helpful list of these nutrients (including good old vitamin C) and where to get them so you can ensure you are giving your body its best fighting chance this cold and flu season.
PROTEIN – Among many (many) other things this macronutrient does, it also contributes to your immune health. Antibodies are in fact protein molecules. If we are going to look at the big picture then protein really is super important for our health and warding off illnesses. Some proteins form our skin – our outer protective layer. It is protein that heals wounds to keep skin sealed up, and it is proteins that transport much of the important stuff around our bodies (like oxygen and nutrients). So you can see, proteins are kind of a big deal. Protein can be found easily in meats (lean is always best) and animal products (eggs, milk). If meat isn’t your thing then make sure you are getting adequate amounts of both legumes and grains, together they form a complete protein (otherwise you are only half way there).
FAT – “Wait, what?” I hear you say. Well, yes, fatty acids are important for immunity. Fatty acids play several roles in our immune system (it’s kind of involved so I won’t go into too much detail), and getting adequate amounts of the good fats is important. There are 2 really important fats we must get from our diet and they both fall under the Omega-6 category. Linoleic acid and Arachidonic acid (a derivative of linoleic acid). Omega-6 rich foods include nuts, seed, vegetable oils. You don’t need a lot, but it does make good sense to take preference for these types of fats in your diet rather than adding more fat, just choose the good stuff.
ZINC – Another common supplement this time of year, zinc has many roles in the body. Perhaps it’s popularity during this time is due to its supporting role for proteins, and its ability to strengthen cells against attack. Zinc is a mineral and can be found in protein rich foods so as long as you are getting meat, legumes, nuts and so forth in the diet your zinc should be covered too. I think it is worth noting that too much zinc is definitely not a good thing and it pays to be aware before reaching for the high-strength supplements.
VITAMIN C – Good old vitamin C, known for warding of the dreaded scurvy, and these days giving our immunity a helping hand. It’s an antioxidant and prevents oxidative stress on tissues, therefore helping to prevent disease. Now, vitamin C, as with all nutrients doesn’t have just one job. It plays important roles in all sorts of places doing all sorts of functions. Did you know it is important during times of stress? Well now you do. It also plays a role in collagen so it is good for the skin, which as mentioned, is also our first line of defense. The orange has long been recognised as a good source of vitamin C, so too is cauliflower, dark green vegies like broccoli, tomatoes, potatoes, mangoes, papayas, strawberries, capsicum and rockmelon. Keep in mind that heat and air exposure can destroy vitamin C so fresh is best.
IRON – Iron has important metabolic roles. It is used to transport oxygen (important for many functions) and it is part of the energy process required for pretty much everything. Iron rich foods include red meats, fish, poultry, eggs and legumes (again our protein rich foods). Iron is far better utilised if it is obtained through food intake, however supplements are sometimes needed, be aware that the “too much of a good thing is a bad thing” rule applies here too, over use of supplements can be detrimental to health.
VITAMIN A – This vitamin is a very busy one. With roles in vision, cell maintenance, skin, reproduction, as well as immunity, it can’t hurt to make sure you are getting it in your diet. Vitamin A works on skin level protection and other mucous membrane surfaces and also as an antioxidant. Vitamin A can be found in liver (don’t eat too often though), dairy products, dark leafy green vegies, deep orange fruits and vegies. Avoid supplements (and liver) if you are pregnant. Vitamin A is super important in the diet though so don’t avoid it.
VITAMIN E – The deal with vitamin E is it protects other nutrients from damage, such as our fatty acids, and vitamin A. This big brother vitamin is also an antioxidant that looks after cell membranes, commonly found in skin products for this reason. Every super hero has a weakness though and it is easily destroyed by heat and exposure, so once again, fresh is best. Find it in leafy green vegies, whole grains, polyunsaturated plant oils, eggs, seeds, nuts and meat fats.
VITAMIN B6 – AKA Pantothenic acid. As well as other things (such as amino acid production) this vitamin is active in immune functions. Adequate amounts can be found in meats, eggs, whole grains and vegies such as potatoes, broccoli and tomatoes.
FOLATE – Best known perhaps as an important nutrient for pregnancy in protecting against neural tube defects, folate also works with B12 to perform important DNA work, significant for cell growth. Legumes are a rich source, also leafy greens, seeds and liver.
SELENIUM – Selenium is a trace mineral, which means we only need a tiny amount of it. It is an antioxidant and regulator of thyroid hormone. Depending on the soil, selenium can be found in varying degrees in whole grains, fruits and veg, and in meats of animals who have eaten plants containing selenium, including seafood).
VITAMIN D – The reason I am bringing this vitamin up is because it is winter. It is cold, it is windy and no one wants to be outside. Even if you are managing to get some outside time there isn’t a lot of vitamin D coming our way. So we can eat it? Yes, we can, it is found in fatty fish and their oils, veal and beef, egg yolk and fortified milks etc. Actually, I’m taking a vitamin D supplement this season, I sure miss the sun. And yes, it is also related to immunity, not just calcium absorption.
WATER – So important for your body (most essential nutrient of all), easy to neglect in the cold season especially. Don’t forget to drink enough, but how much is enough? You may have heard the 8 glasses rule, but it is more of a guideline. Our water needs vary. The best personal guide you have is by looking at the colour of your urine. It should be a light straw colour. Too dark and you need more water, too colourless and you may be drinking too much (yes, you can do that). And yes, water is best.
This is a general guide, please be advised that there is such thing as “too much of a good thing“. Do not overdo your protein intake or any nutrient supplements. The idea is not to rush out and get supplements of these nutrients but to look to your diet and balance your foods. If you have any questions about what your limits might be please feel free to contact me. It is ALWAYS better to get your nutrients in food. If you have any health conditions such as kidney problems, see a health professional.
As mentioned, processing, heating and even exposure can start to deteriorate many nutrients so eat fresh when you can. Hope you are all staying fit and healthy this cold and flu season.