Millions of Americans suffer from yearly colds and flus (I was unfortunate to have the flu last week). A healthy diet and lifestyle may play a factor in reducing your risk of coming down with a cold or the flu.

It is recommended that people get plenty of fruits and vegetables (around 5-7 + servings a day). They are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. Keep in mind that eating the whole fruit/vegetable is the best way to obtain these nutrients and to get the most optimal effect. For example, vitamin C is helpful for a healthy immune system. Studies have not shown a benefit from taking high doses of vitamin C but eating fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamin C (like peppers, citrus fruits and broccoli) can have a greater positive impact on your immune system.

In addition to fruits and vegetables, an overall healthy diet can help reduce illness. Avoid a diet that is high in simple sugars. Decrease sugar laden beverages and choose water or low sugar juices (Healthy Balance juice) and reduce the amount of sweets consumed (cookies, candy, pie, ice cream) and substitute with fresh fruit salads and low fat/sugar yogurt. Avoid eating high amounts of saturated or trans fats (red meat, butter, or processed foods like chips, doughnuts, crackers). Increase intake of monounsaturated fats (olive oil, avocado) and omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, tuna, walnuts, green leafy vegetables).

Lifestyle changes can also help reduce risk. Make sure you are getting plenty of rest and partaking in adequate hand washing techniques. Getting your flu shot and plenty of exercise can also lessen colds and the flus.

If you do happen to come down with a cold, get plenty of hot fluids to thin mucous secretions (tea, warm gelatin, broth based soups). Eat other foods as tolerated and make sure you are continuing with good hand washing techniques and maintaining cleanliness of utensil/dining ware by washing in hot/soapy water. If the flu gets you, don’t eat or drink for at least an hour after the last vomiting incident. Then try water or a flat carbonated beverage like ginger ale or lemon lime. If you are able to keep that down, try to replace lost fluids and gradually add bland foods like toast, crackers, broth-based soup, and rice as tolerated. To help control diarrhea, try foods with soluble fiber like plain oatmeal, banana, and applesauce in addition to tea, rice or rice cereal.

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