Healthy Foods to Prevent Colds and Flus

Fall Harvest Provides Immune Boosting Foods Just in Time for Flu Season

Late summer and fall harvests provide us with some of the most nourishing foods available.  Many of these foods supply us with the nutrients our bodies need to maintain a healthy immune system just in time for the onslaught of flu’s and colds.

Beta-carotene is a bright orange-red pigmented nutrient found in brightly coloured vegetables and fruits, so named for the way it colours carrots.  It has long been known as an immune boosting vitamin and indeed will be converted by the body into Vitamin A as needed.  Both beta carotene and Vitamin A are known to help the immune system to respond quicker and stronger to invading viruses and bacteria.  More recent studies suggest that this nutrient is actually best obtained from food sources rather than as a supplement.  That’s probably because the entire family of carotenes work to help support the immune system.

Beta-carotene is found in great abundance in carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkins and squash.  Tomatoes are rich in beta- carotene as well as another carotene known as Lycopene.   Lycopene has been found to have incredible antioxidant properties and has even been found to be beneficial in the prevention of certain types of cancers. Interestingly enough this wonderful nutrient is even more available when tomatoes are heated or cooked.  So adding some tomatoes to roasted, steamed or sautéed fall vegetables both enhances the flavour and gives our immune system a giant boost.

Vitamins C is well known for its immune enhancing properties and is highly recommended for preventing colds and flues. Not only does it increase the number of cells that fight invading viruses, but it enhances the production of interferon – a substance that prevents the spread of viruses from one cell to another. Dark green veggies such as spinach, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and peppers contain beta carotene as well as Vitamin C.  Even potatoes provide us with extra vitamin C especially when cooked with the skin on.

Another nutrient that is so important for a healthy functioning immune system is zinc.  If zinc is lacking in your diet your immune system will be weakened.  Zinc can help boost the immune response and prevent infections – hence it is often added to lozenges to help treat sore throats.  Since too much zinc can impair the immune system as well, getting adequate amounts in your diet is important.  Beans such as lentils and chick peas are a good source of zinc as are peas, pumpkin and sesame seeds, ginger root and turkey.

Vitamin E has been shown to enhance the production of antibody producing cells and natural killer cells which protect us from invading germs.  Vegetable oils and seeds such as sunflower and pumpkin seeds are good sources of Vitamin E. While nuts are often prohibited at schools due to severe allergies, sunflower and pumpkin seeds are usually acceptable and make a tasty snack for youngsters.

Many articles have been written about the antibacterial properties of garlic, but it also contains substances that enhance the response of the immune system to invading viruses and bacteria.  The mature garlic harvested in late summer and early fall is rich in these properties and the bulbs will last in storage for a few months.  Steaming or baking garlic makes them taste sweeter and more palatable for young children.  Cooking them in soups or stews will likewise mellow the taste.  A surprising number of young children enjoy the taste of hummus – a good way to get chick peas and garlic into them.  Hummus makes a nice dip for raw veggies or rice chips.

There has been a lot of excitement in the last few years about the immune boosting abilities of some exotic mushrooms – like reishi and shitake.  But even the lowly button mushroom has been found to have these positive effects.  Adding raw or cooked mushrooms to your child’s diet on a regular basis will have a very positive effect on their overall health.

Soups and stews made with these marvellous vegetables are a good way to get them into kids.  For picky eaters try cooking and pureeing vegetables into a palatable lunchtime soup.  Squash and sweet potato puree with a little apple and ginger make a great tasting, highly nutritious lunch for kids to take to school in a thermos.  A mix of cooked broccoli, kale and mushrooms can likewise be made up into a puree with chicken broth and a little cooked garlic.

So enjoy our colourful fall harvest – not just for the wonderful flavours, but also for the great benefits to our immune system.

Dr. Mary Welch

Dr. Mary Welch


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