In case you haven’t noticed - winter is here!
We could be fans of cold temperatures, or prefer the heat of summer - but this frigid season is fully underway whether we prefer it or not! While it has its share of unique and fun, calorie-burning activities (sledding, skiing, snowboarding; and, in the case of New Yorkers, simply traversing the sidewalks after a snowstorm), winter also tends to come accompanied by a familiar foe: influenza, or, the flu.
Influenza is an upper respiratory illness that can range from mild in otherwise healthy individuals, to severe in the more susceptible elderly population and in young children. It is quite contagious; headaches and body aches, fever, coughing and vomiting are some of the most common symptoms. In a city as large as New York, where we are exposed to so many people each day, what can we do to keep ourselves and our families among the healthy?
Each fall, the messages to get a flu vaccine are at every turn. Flu shots are a key ally in preventing the contraction and spread of multiple strains of the virus, and the more people who are vaccinated, the less likely the disease can take hold on a population. Yet, there’s even more we can do to help maximize our immune systems, and guess what - it involves eating!
We all love food at Red Rabbit, so this is very good news indeed! While it is always recommended to fill our plates with lots of vegetables and fruits at every meal, throughout the year, never is it more important than the weeks leading up to and during flu season. Plants in particular are loaded with micronutrients - essential vitamins and minerals - which are vital for a healthy immune system.
It is important to note that infusing our diets with certain foods is not the same as eating healthfully year-round, and definitely not the same as getting vaccinated. However, the better we eat in general, the better equipped our bodies will be to fight disease if and when we are exposed to it!
Two micronutients that are particular stand-outs are Vitamin A and Zinc. Vitamin A is important for a healthy immune system, as it helps protect from infections by keeping skin and tissues in your mouth, stomach, intestines and respiratory system healthy. Not having enough Vitamin A has been linked to decreased immunity and increased risk for infectious disease. Foods rich in vitamin A include sweet potatoes (with the skin!), spinach, red peppers, carrots, and such animal products as cheese, eggs and fortified milk.
Zinc just might be the wunderkind of micronutrients! It is needed for such functions as normal cell growth, division and repair, and protein and DNA synthesis. Without it, we would not function! The best food sources of zinc are oysters and other shellfish, lean meat and poultry, nuts, and milk and milk products. Beans and whole grains are also good sources; however, their fiber content can bind to zinc, therefore reducing absorption.
Additionally, (though certainly not least!) water plays a key role in optimal organ system functioning, and is very important for proper immune response. So, drink up and consume plenty of fluids!
Making sure we keep our diets rich in these micronutrients will help us sustain healthy bodies and minds all year long - not just through flu season! If we arm ourselves with flu fighters each day, we will be better able to resist a bug if it makes it past the additional precautions we should take, such as frequently washing our hands, staying active and getting enough sleep. Sleeping allows the body the time it needs to recover from the day, and puts these wonderful nutrients to work - so be sure to allow time for your full7-8 hours each night!
Happy eating, exercising and sleeping!
The Red Rabbit Team