Fall Cold & Flu Prevention: Why Your Nutrition Matters

The weather is getting cooler, the leaves are starting to turn and cold and flu season is upon us. After the majority of us being home for the last year and a half during Covid-19, our immune systems haven’t been exposed to as many people, germs or common sicknesses, which means we need to build our immune system up more than ever in order to prevent the common cold or flu.

How Do You Build Up Your Immune System?

There are a number of factors that go into building our immune system, including regular exercise, reducing stress levels and ensuring we get enough vitamins and minerals that we need through the foods we consume. By making sure we’re eating healthy, whole foods the majority of the time and reducing the amount of ultra processed foods, we can naturally help our bodies fight off any foreign invaders (like germs) coming in.

5 Vitamins & Minerals Crucial To Our Immune System Health

1. Vitamin C

  Most of us know by now that Vitamin C plays a big role in fighting off the common cold and flu. With different supplements becoming popular like Emergen-C and Airborne, Vitamin C is readily available in a powder or pill form. But how do we get it naturally from our diet without adding the other, processed things that tend to be included in those supplements?  Citrus fruits are great sources of Vitamin C, along with strawberries, spinach, kale, bell peppers and brussel sprouts.1 All of which are great for naturally fighting off inflammation in your body as well. Although these amounts may vary per person, women should be having at least 75 mg/day of Vitamin C, while men should aim for at least 90.6 In one orange alone, you could be getting over 50 mg of Vitamin C!   

2. Vitamin E

  Vitamin E is another important antioxidant to make sure you’re getting into your diet. Not getting enough can result in infections or muscle weakness and fatigue.(2) Thankfully, this vitamin is readily available in lots of high-fat foods, including almonds, sunflower seeds, sunflower oil, peanuts, salmon, and avocado. The amount we should be getting of Vitamin E per day is about 15 mg and deficiency in this vitamin is typically fairly uncommon as we tend to get enough from the foods we eat.6  

3. Vitamin A

  Vitamin A plays a significant role in our health, providing us with the power our body needs for the growth and development of healthy cells, preserving our eyesight, maintaining our body’s natural immune response, supports bone health and so much more.3 
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This vitamin can be found in eggs, fatty fish like salmon, cheese, spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes and other yellow, red and green leafy vegetables. Ideally women should be getting at least 700 mcg/day and men at least 900 mcg/day.6 If you start your day out with 2 eggs, you’re already getting around 128 mcg of Vitamin A! By adding in other veggies throughout the day, you can typically get a sufficient amount on your own. Keep in mind these amounts may vary for each person.  

4. Vitamin D

  We naturally get Vitamin D from the sun; however, with our society’s current lifestyle, and especially during Covid-19, we are limited to healthy sun exposure as most of us stay inside for the majority of the day. It’s very common for humans to be deficient in Vitamin D these days, which can lead to fatigue, bone pain, mood changes, and of course infections due to a lower immune response.4 In an ideal world, we’re each getting at least 600 UI of Vitamin D per day, but if you live in colder climates that can be difficult so you may want to speak to your doctor about supplementation.7 So how do we get Vitamin D in our diet? You can start by adding in foods that have a high source of this vitamin as well as getting sun exposure for 15-20 minutes each day! The different foods with high sources of Vitamin D, include salmon (noticing a theme here with salmon?), tuna, egg yolks, mushrooms and some dairy products fortified with Vitamin D.   

5. Zinc

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Some of you may have been hearing a lot about Zinc over the past year and a half in regards to Covid. This is because Zinc is crucial to over 300 enzymes in our bodies that are responsible for metabolism, digestion, nerve function and the growth and development of our immune cells. However, our body doesn’t naturally produce Zinc, which means we have to get it from the foods we eat or supplements.5 Many people used Zinc during this time to reduce the duration of symptoms and prevent getting sick. Zinc is found in lots of different foods that you’re probably already eating - beef, chicken, turkey, chickpeas, lentils, black beans, eggs, brown rice, quinoa, mushrooms, kale, and asparagus. For women, aim to get at least 8 mg/day and men should aim for at least 11 mg/day. Zinc tends to be in high protein items as mentioned above. If you make sure to have a serving of protein with each meal, you will likely consume the appropriate amount of Zinc during the day. Again, these amounts may vary from person to person. 

The Link Between Food & Your Immune System

Given the essential vitamins and minerals listed above that we need for our body’s natural immune system to work properly, you can clearly see how the foods we choose to eat make a big impact. The key to all of this is consistency and being patient with your body. If you’re adding in new foods that contain these vitamins, you may not see any results or changes in how you feel for at least a couple weeks. By eating whole foods as much as possible and avoiding highly processed foods that tend to cause inflammation, we can better support our immune system and overall body, and avoid getting sick during the coming months.
References: 1https://health.clevelandclinic.org/eat-these-foods-to-boost-your-immune-system/, 2https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods-high-in-vitamin-e#TOC_TITLE_HDR_1, 3https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-a-benefits#TOC_TITLE_HDR_7, 4 https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/guide/calcium-vitamin-d-foods, 5https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/zinc#benefits, 6https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/vitamins-minerals-how-much-should-you-take, 7https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/normal-vitamin-d-levels#sources

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