If your diet is not up to par, you’ll get sick more often than someone who eats a healthier diet.
Things like viruses and bacterial infections will hit you harder and keep you out for longer. Meanwhile, eating poorly while you’re sick will only make you worse. Good nutrition allows our bodies to respond to colds and flus quickly and efficiently.
To function well, the cells of our immune system need plenty of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fatty acids.
Yet nutrient deficiencies are far more common than you might suppose.
Where should you focus your diet when sick or trying to prevent a cold?
1. Prebiotics and Probiotics
Prebiotics and probiotics deserve special mention for helping to prevent illness. Both are essential to gut health, and gut health is crucial to immunity.
Prebiotics help nourish our good microbial friends. Usually, this is some form of semi-digestible fibre that our bacteria can chow down on, and that helps to move food through the GI tract.
The best whole food sources of prebiotics are things like:
- Flax Seeds
- Chia Seeds
If you’re healthy, aim for 1-2 servings of probiotic-rich foods each day.
Some supplements can help with probiotics as well. Supplemental doses are usually advertised in billions of live organisms. Between 3 and 5 billion would be a starting dose. Choose a reputable brand or speak with our naturopathic doctor Dr. Rory Gibbons, and take it with food and water.
While a whole-foods diet rich in prebiotics and probiotics will go a long way towards protecting you from viruses and bacterial infections, even the healthiest diet can’t ward off every cold and flue. If you do get sick, of course, you’ll want to recover faster. But the question is, “Should you feed a cold and starve a fever?” There’s no definitive answer with the amount of research on the topic.
With something to be said theoretically both for eating and fasting while sick, practically speaking, it’s best to rely on your own body’s signals.
When it comes right down to it, our own appetite cues probably give us the clearest picture of what we should eat when we get sick. For example, very few of us want to eat when we’re hit by flu. That’s because flu-like bugs and bacterial infections lead to higher levels of appetite suppression. Maybe this is the body’s way of guarding its resources? After all, digestion takes a fair amount of energy, energy that could be used to fight off the sickness.
2. Specific Foods
Let’s say you get sick despite all your precautions – and your appetite doesn’t entirely disappear. Are there any particular foods that could speed up recovery?
Here are some examples:
Garlic – Acts as an antibiotic, and has consistently been found to lessen the severity of colds and other infections.
Chicken Soup – Commonly touted as a food for colds, chicken soup actually works! It provides fluids and electrolytes, is warm and soothing, and may also contain anti-inflammatory properties that decrease cold symptoms. You have to use real chicken soup though, the kind you make from simmering a chicken carcass — rather than stuff from a can or package.
Green Tea – Boosts the production of B cell antibodies, helping us rid ourselves of invading pathogens.
Honey – Has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, and is an effective cough suppressant. A few teaspoons in a cup of green tea is all you need.
In general, we use whole foods to improve our immunity. But under certain circumstances, you might want to supplement. Nutrients that can support immunity and that are generally well tolerated include: Vitamin C Supplements, Zinc, and Ginseng.
Consuming foods rich in Vitamin E (such as nuts, olive oil or avocados) may also help. This may enhance T cell function and might lead to less colds and fewer respiratory infections.
Here’s What you can do right now to prevent getting sick:
- Avoid over—or under—exercising
- Avoid over—or under—eating
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Wash your hands
- Get enough sleep, consistently
- Manage stress
- Eat plenty of nutrient-dense foods
- Feed your healthy bacteria
If you’re already feeling sick:
- Drink lots of fluids (water and green tea)
- Rest and recover
- Focus on immune-boosting foods
- Supplement with pre—and pro—biotics
- Use immune-boosting supplements
- And above all, listen to your body cues.
If you’re hungry, eat. If not, don’t.
In the end, no matter how well you manage your nutrition, exercise, sleep, and stress, you will get sick sometimes. We all do. Don’t be a hero and pretend you’re not. Instead, take the steps outlined here to get back on your feet as quickly as possible.
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