Maintaining a robust immune system is crucial during cold and flu season. Fueling our bodies with the right nutrients can boost our immune system, both preventing you from getting sick and helping you recover from sickness quicker.
Vitamins and Minerals: Many vitamins and minerals are involved in our immune system. The best way to ensure you are getting enough of the right nutrients is by following the healthy plate model - 1/2 plate vegetables, 1/4 plate protein, and 1/4 whole grains. Here are some specific immune-boosting nutrients and foods you can find them in:
Vitamin C: strawberries, oranges, pineapple, spinach, kale, bell peppers (most fruits and vegetables).
Vitamin E: nuts and seeds and some plant oils like sunflower oil
Zinc: seafood, chicken, and milk products
Iron: red meat, chicken, turkey, beans, broccoli
Vitamin D: most adults in Canada should take 600-1000 IU of vitamin D each day in the winter months, as we mainly absorb vitamin D through our skin from the sun.
Protein: Whether it's from lean meats, poultry, fish, or plant-based sources like beans and tofu, protein is essential to a well-functioning immune system. Proteins provide the building blocks for immune cells and antibodies, helping your body mount a strong defense against infections.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their immune-boosting properties. They are found in fatty fish like salmon and other seafood. Research shows we experience the most health benefits when we get omega-3 fatty acids from food rather than supplements.
Probiotics: A significant portion of the immune system resides in the gut, and maintaining a healthy balance of gut bacteria is essential. Incorporate yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods into your diet to promote a healthy gut microbiome.
Hydration: Aim to drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep your immune system in top shape.
Mediterranean Eating Mediterranean eating is a lifestyle that promotes overall health and wellbeing. A Mediterranean Diet may help with:
reducing your risk of heart disease, stroke, and type-2 diabetes
improve blood sugar management for people with type-2 diabetes
delaying development of cognitive disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer's Disease
Key Components of the Mediterranean Diet:
Plant Foods Every Day:
Abundant Fruits and Vegetables: At the heart of the Mediterranean diet are colorful, nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables. These foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Healthy Fats: Olive oil, a staple in Mediterranean cuisine, provides healthy monounsaturated fats. Nuts and seeds are also encouraged, providing essential fatty acids.
Whole Grains: Whole grains like whole wheat, oats, and brown rice are integral to this diet. They offer a steady source of energy and are packed with fiber, aiding digestion and promoting satiety.
Plant Proteins: Beans, peas and lentils have an abundance of plant-based protein and fibre.
Herbs and Spices: Mediterranean dishes are known for their vibrant flavors, often achieved through the use of herbs and spices like oregano, basil, rosemary, and garlic - with less of an emphasis on salt.
Lean Animal Proteins: Fish, in particular, provides omega-3 fatty acids, which are excellent for heart health. Mediterranean eating encourages eating fish at least two times per week.
Dairy in Moderation: Dairy products are consumed in moderation, primarily as yogurt and cheese. These provide essential calcium and probiotics for gut health. They are kept in moderation as they are higher in a less healthy type of fat called saturated fat. Limit Red Meat, Sweets and Desserts, and Alcohol: Limit red meat such as goat, beef, pork and lamb to two servings per week or less. Choose sweets and desserts less often, and choose water instead of sweetened drinks. Newest guidelines also suggest limiting alcohol to two drinks per week or less.
Emphasis on Social Eating: Sharing meals with family and friends is an essential aspect of the Mediterranean diet. The social and relaxed nature of mealtime can reduce stress and promote a positive relationship with food.
The Mediterranean diet is not a restrictive eating pattern; it is a lifestyle change that focuses on eating more of the right types of food instead of focusing on restriction. If you would like to start working towards a Mediterranean diet pattern, review this resource and choose 2-3 areas to make a change today.
Nutrition Labels: Understanding Percent Daily Value
Reading nutrition labels can feel overwhelming. Here is a quick tip to understanding a number called the percent daily value. Check out the % Daily Value on the right hand side of the label. This can help you compare products and decide on a healthy serving size. Use this guide: “5% or less is a little, 15% more is a lot”. You might see this written at the bottom of the nutrition label.
Nutrients that are good to have a lot of:
Vitamins and minerals such as iron, calcium, and vitamin C
Nutrients that are good to have a little of:
½ cup of chickpeas contains 2% of your daily fat. This is a little.
½ cup of steel cut oats contains 16% of your daily fibre. This is a lot.
1 cup of prepared chicken noodle soup contains 33% of your daily sodium. This is a lot.
Healthy Digestion Many people struggle with their digestive health every once in a while. You might experience occasional constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas, or burping. Try some of the following strategies to help you stay regular.
Eat at regular times each day. Most people should aim for three meals and one to two snacks spaced evenly throughout the day. Try not to eat too late at night.
Avoid eating too much at one time.
Avoid eating too fast. Eating quickly can cause you to take in more air which can cause bloating. It can also cause you to eat too much and feel uncomfortably full.
Drink lots of water throughout the day. If you have diarrhea, you may benefit from limiting your caffeine intake.
Limit your intake of high fat foods. Eating too much fat at one time can cause cramping and diarrhea. Many people note these symptoms when they have “fast foods”. Other high fat foods include cheese, cream sauces, fried foods, gravies, and regular-fat meat products. When possible, choose lower fat foods such as low-fat dairy products, lean ground beef, and baked foods instead of fried foods.
Limit or avoid alcohol, as it can irritate the digestive tract.
Find a fibre intake that works for you. There are two main types of fibre:
Soluble fibre helps bowel movements “gel” together by drawing in extra water. Soluble fibre can help with constipation and diarrhea. Good sources of soluble fibre include: Metamucil, ground psyllium husk, and oats.
Insoluble fibre adds bulk to your bowel movements and can help with constipation. Good sources of insoluble fibre include: whole grain products, wheat bran, and many types of vegetables. If these foods make your digestive symptoms worse, choose foods with soluble fibre more often instead. If you've tried these tips and are still struggling with your digestive health, consider asking your health care provider for a referral to our dietitian.
Should I take probiotics? Probiotics are live forms of “good” bacteria that help keep your gut healthy. Taking probiotics is thought to replenish the “good” bacteria in your gut. However, we don’t have a way to know which type of bacteria each individual person needs, so you might be taking the wrong kind for your body. The evidence on probiotics is very mixed. Some people notice some improvement in their digestion, and others don’t.
Focus on prebiotic foods instead, which help feed the healthy gut bacteria you already have. Some prebiotic foods include: garlic, onion, asparagus, tomatoes, whole grains, chicory root, and fermented dairy products.