With the change in seasons, a healthy immune system is your best defence against infection.
Winter brings with it the chance that you’ll get stuck at home with a case of the sniffles. But whether it’s a change in seasons or even the height of summer, stress and other factors can make it more likely for you to develop a cold. Here are the top ways to stay healthy throughout the year:
Get Back to the Basics.
Now that I have two young kids in school, I’m constantly reminding them of things like, “wash your hands!” and “don’t forget to drink lots of water!” So simple, yet so true – these basic steps can help even us adults fend off an impending cough or cold. The reason is that viruses are spread through hand-to-hand contact and through droplets in the air when someone sneezes or coughs. It’s important to regularly wash your hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds. And staying hydrated can help prevent virus-filled droplets from finding their way into your system and promoting infection. Aim for eight to 10 cups of fluids every day from foods and beverages such as water, tea and soup.
Say No to Stress.
Women are especially prone to feelings of stress, which can be both mentally and physically draining. Stress also depletes essential nutrients such as the B vitamins and this can reduce your resistance to viral infections. To minimize the effects of stress, aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night, engage in regular physical activity and find an “outlet” for dealing with frustrations – such as journaling, meditation or simply talking it out with a good friend.
Let the Sun Shine.
Nicknamed the “sunshine vitamin”, vitamin D may help prevent colds and flu by boosting the body’s own immune defense system to fight off bacteria and viruses. To compensate for the lack of sunshine during the winter months (which limits the body’s ability to produce vitamin D naturally), be sure to supplement with 1,000 International Units (IU) of vitamin D daily.
Include Nature’s Immune Boosters.
A healthy diet is one of your best bets for staying healthy and keeping your immune system strong. Make sure your diet includes plenty of the following nutrient-packed foods:
- Yogurt: Contains probiotics (“good” bacteria) that inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria and viruses in the digestive tract
- Green tea: It contains antioxidants that reduce inflammation and help your body fight infection. Green tea also counts towards your fluid intake!
- Fish: Omega-3 essential fatty acids are “good” fats found in fish such as salmon, that help to strengthen the body’s resistance to infection
- Deep orange fruits and dark green vegetables: Packed with nutrients such as beta-carotene and vitamin C, fresh or frozen produce can easily be incorporated into hearty soups and stews, salads, stir fries and pasta dishes. You can also boost your intake with a vitamin C supplement, which will not only help to shorten the duration of a cold, but may also reduce the severity of your symptoms.
- Try cooking with garlic, ginger, onions and mushrooms: These ingredients all have natural immune-boosting properties and add delicious flavour to a variety of dishes.
Immune Enhancer to the Rescue.
All hope is not lost if, despite all of your preventative efforts, you still feel that scratchy throat coming on! Echinacea is an herbal product that can help minimize the duration of cold and flu symptoms and alleviate sore throats. It is best if taken within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms, and works by increasing the production of infection-fighting cells so that your body is better prepared to fight off cold and flu viruses.
Michelle Latinsky is a Toronto-based registered dietitian. She graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Food and Nutrition from Ryerson University, and completed her dietetic internship at St. Michael’s Hospital. She is also a long-time Executive Committee member of the Dietitians of Canada Business & Industry Network (DCBIN).