Flu season is upon us and we want to do everything we can to keep our families healthy and strong during these months. While there's no magical pill that guarantees immunity (I wish there were), we can take steps to support our immune health, especially when it comes to nutrition. Incorporating probiotics, foods rich in vitamin D, zinc, and protein, can play a significant role in strengthening our immune system. In this blog, we'll explore practical and delicious ways to boost your family's immune system during flu season. Let's strive for balance, not perfection, and give our families the best chance at staying well during this flu season.
Protein: Building Blocks of Immunity:
Protein is essential for building a strong immune system. Include protein-rich foods like lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, and tofu in your family's meals. Adding a scoop of peanut butter to a smoothie or offering a handful of almonds as a snack are simple and delicious ways to boost protein intake.
The Superpower of Probiotics:
Probiotics are like little superheroes for the gut. Did you know that up to 70% of our immune system lives in our gut? They can enhance immune function and help protect against respiratory infections. As a pediatric dietitian and mom of two myself, I am a fan of Bio-K+ drinkable probiotics because I can easily incorporate these into my family’s everyday meals. You can also incorporate probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, kefir, and even fermented products like sauerkraut in other meals and snacks to help promote a healthy gut and a stronger immune system.
Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin:
During flu season, getting enough vitamin D is crucial for immune support. Encourage your loved ones to spend some time outdoors in sunlight, which helps their body produce this vital nutrient. Additionally, foods like fatty fish, fortified dairy products, and eggs are great sources of vitamin D. If your kid is not a fan of fish, consider making fish sticks instead of chicken nuggets or incorporating canned tuna, which is both inexpensive and practical to use.
Zinc: The Immune Booster:
Zinc is a mineral that plays a crucial role in immune function. A 2021 review found evidence that zinc supplementation shortened the duration and severity of a common cold. Foods like beans, lentils, nuts, and chicken are rich in zinc and can help support your family's immune system. You can also make a delicious zinc-packed trail mix with nuts, seeds, and dried fruits for a nutritious snack.
Include vitamin C-rich foods:
Incorporate a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables into your family’s diet, like oranges, strawberries, spinach, and carrots. Although vitamin C does not prevent colds from happening, some studies have found that it reduces the symptoms of a cold. I love making quick breakfast smoothies with frozen mango strawberries; I add some Bio-K+ mango drinkable probiotic, flaxseeds, and kefir for an additional nutrient boost. These on-the-go smoothies are loaded with vitamins and antioxidants that can help strengthen their defenses. Plus, they're easy to make, and your family will love them!
Sleep is often underestimated when it comes to our overall health, including our immune system. Ensure your loved ones get the recommended hours of sleep based on their age. A rested body is better equipped to fend off those pesky flu bugs. Establish a calming bedtime routine and limit screen time before bed to help them wind down.
While I wish we could guarantee total immunity from colds and flu, the reality is that this isn't possible. We can play a part in keeping our families healthy by incorporating nutrient-dense foods in everyday meals they will actually eat and enjoy. And let's not forget about the power of zzzz. By including immune-boosting foods, probiotics, vitamin D sources, food high in zinc and vitamin C, and prioritizing sleep, you're giving your loved ones a fighting chance against the flu and other seasonal illnesses. Stay healthy!
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- Hunter J, Arentz S, Goldenberg J, Yang G, Beardsley J, Myers SP, Mertz D, Leeder S. Zinc for the prevention or treatment of acute viral respiratory tract infections in adults: a rapid systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. BMJ Open. 2021 Nov 2;11(11):e047474. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-047474. PMID: 34728441; PMCID: PMC8578211.