Fight Winter Illness with Good Nutrition

It’s that time of year when winter illnesses like colds and flus can run rampant through homes, schools, workplaces and communities. Good nutrition can play an important part in keeping us healthy and well throughout the winter season. Not only is proper nutrition important for preventing colds and flus, it can also also assist us in recovering from such illnesses.

Foods that play an important role in warding off infections like colds and flus are those that contain antioxidants. Antioxidants provide many health benefits, including: boosting the immune system, lowering risk of infections and illnesses, preventing and repairing cell damage, and improving long-term health by reducing risk of chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease. For more information on the benefits of antioxidants, check out this past blog post (click the link).
The primary antioxidants include the following:
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Beta-carotene
  • Zinc
  • Selenium
Just by eating a variety of healthful foods, we can ensure that our bodies are getting good amounts of antioxidants. You’ve probably heard the advice, ‘Eat a rainbow.’ This is not referring to Skittles or M&Ms;, unfortunately. Rather, it means trying to consume a variety of different colored fruits and vegetables, as this will help us receive optimum health benefits from our foods. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables is the best way to provide antioxidants for our bodies. For more information about eating a rainbow, check out this blog post (click the link). For ideas about how to incorporate different fruits and vegetables into a healthy meal plan, check out this blog post (click the link).
Even though fruits and vegetables are generally the best sources of antioxidants, other foods contain these disease-fighting compounds. Foods like beans, legumes, nuts, whole grains and lean proteins can all provide antioxidants. I recently came across this article (click the link), which discusses the importance of eating a variety of healthful foods to fight winter sickness. The article points out some of the different food sources of antioxidants, including the following:
  • Vitamin C: citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit, tomatoes, red bell peppers, strawberries and cantaloupe
  • Vitamin E: nuts, fortified cereals, avocado and broccoli
  • Beta-carotene: carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, spinach and winter squash
  • Zinc: nuts, beans, eggs, whole grains, meat and dairy products
  • Selenium: Brazil nuts, shiitake mushrooms, tuna and some fortified breads and grain products
As it turns out, by following the plate method, we can better assist our bodies in preventing and fighting illness. Just make 1/2 of your plate fruits and vegetables, 1/4 of your plate whole grains and 1/4 of your plate lean proteins. Using this method to plan meals can help nourish our bodies with proper nutrients and antioxidants to promote health and wellness.
Many of us like to eat comfort foods when we’ve caught a winter cold. By making just a few tweaks to our recipes, we can better assist our bodies in recovering from sickness. So add lots of veggies like carrots or spinach to your chicken noodle soup or sprinkle walnuts and berries on top of your oatmeal to help fight winter illness.
Rachel Cope MPH, RC, CD