Cooler weather means spending more time indoors with crowds, ideal conditions for spreading cold viruses-especially when children are involved. Frequent hand washing is the best way to avoid those nasty cold viruses, but as we all know, children (and adults) are not the best at remembering to wash their hands.
Other than enforcing a strict hand washing policy at home and handing out bottles of alcohol-based cleansing gels to family members, you may be wondering what else you can do to avoid the sore throats, runny noses, and coughs that made everyone in the family so miserable last winter-and caused you to lose so many days at work.
Boost Your Immunity
To remain healthy and enable the body to fight off cold viruses, your immune system must be in tip-top condition. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to incorporate foods that boost the body's immune system into your family's diet.
Immune boosting foods work by increasing the number of white blood cells known as leukocytes, which are important in fighting infections. Immune boosting foods also stimulate production of natural killer cells that destroy germs, and interferon, an antibody that prevents viruses from entering cells and replicating.
While a well-rounded diet is a must all year long, many nutritionists advise that certain foods such as those containing vitamins A, C, and E, and Omega-3 fatty acids are especially good for fighting off colds during the winter months.
Stacy Roberts, a Registered Dietician in South Florida, recommends eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables including guava, papaya, melon, yellow pepper, grapefruit, oranges, mangos, broccoli, almonds, peanut butter, sunflower seeds, wheat germ oil, sweet potatoes, and hazel nuts. "Essential fatty acids found in salmon, mackerel, and flaxseed also play a role in fighting colds, and don't forget about garlic, an herb that can also boost immune system," says Roberts.
California-based nutritionist Stella Metsovas, BS, CN, suggests adding kefir, a probiotic and cultured dairy product similar to yogurt, to the diet as a morning starter. She says, "Kefir is an ancient super food that contains super-beneficial enzymes and microorganisms that help the body's overall immunity."
During the fall and winter months be sure to take advantage of seasonal fruits such as apples, which are high in vitamin C, and cool weather vegetables such as cabbage and kale. Root vegetables such as carrots, squash, pumpkin, and sweet potato are plentiful during the cold and flu season and contain beta-carotene, which is converted by the body into vitamin A, a powerful cold-fighter.
Ideally of course immune boosting foods should be eaten at every meal. Don't load up on immune boosting foods for breakfast and eat junk or processed foods the rest of the day. The immune system, like the body, needs a constant supply of proper nutrients to maintain itself.
Some foods actually weaken the immune system cautions Metsovas. "Refined carbohydrates such as sugar, margarine, and white flour can have an impact on the immune system," she says. "They create a burden on the immune system by increasing the number of white blood cells needed to help digest what the body perceives as foreign matter, diverting white blood cells from their intended role--fighting foreign invaders."
What You Can Do
Busy moms and dads can incorporate these immune boosting foods into their family menu plans by making sure there are at least 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day and 2-3 servings of fish a week. 2-3 servings of beef a week are also recommended. Familiarize yourself with how much food is actually in a single portion. You might be surprised to find out you are already serving close to the recommended amounts.
What about fussy kids who don't want to eat their fruits and veggies? That's easy according to Stacy Roberts. "Moms can make ice pops out of fruit juice so its fun and healthy. Buying low sugars cereals and adding fresh fruit to give it a sweet taste is another trick that works well."
Roberts also says that kids are more likely to try foods that they have prepared and that parents and children can work together to make meals and snacks. Another way to sneak in those veggies is to add them to fruit smoothies. Carrots, sweet potatoes, and peas for example are sweet and most kids won't even know they are in there.