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February 15, 2011

Infection Protection

The Hood Answer Mom, Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D.

Chances are, you and your kids have battled at least once cold in the last few months. But cold, and flu, season is not over yet. 

While you may not give your immune system a passing thought until you're down for the count with a miserable cold or even worse, the flu, it's comforting to know that an army of immune cells patrol your body, 24/7, destroying harmful bacteria, viruses and other germs - before trouble starts.

Eat to Beat Germs

Diet, adequate sleep and physical activity, and stress reduction all play a part in keeping your immune system in top-top shape. 

No single nutrient boosts immunity. Instead, an array of nutrients work in unison to help your body repel infection. Still, some nutrients get more attention when talk turns to infection protection.

Here's how to eat to support the cellular warriors that can repel the bacteria and viruses that make you and your family sick:

Protein: Protein in foods such as meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, legumes, and soy, provides the raw materials for building the elements of the immune system that protect you against bacteria and viruses that causes colds and flu, including healthy skin and cells.  Include a source of protein, such as milk, at each meal and snack.  Eggs Florentine Wrap  is packed with protein, and the spinach provides immune-boosting nutrients, too. 

Vitamin C: Vitamin C plays a central role in infection protection, but it often gets more credit than it deserves.

Some people swear by vitamin C supplements to prevent colds, but the scientific evidence is far from solid, and there is risk of overdoing it with vitamin C pills.  Instead of relying on supplements, serve up vitamin C rich foods every day, including citrus fruits and juice, tomatoes, and broccoli, that also provide other immune-boosting nutrients, such as beta-carotene. Cream of Broccoli Soup   is a delicious easy way to include vitamins C and D, and protein.

Beta-carotene: Beta-carotene, found in deep orange and yellow fruits and vegetables, and in green veggies, like broccoli, foils the invasion of germs by maintaining strong tissue in your mouth, nasal passages, lungs and digestive tract to filter out "invaders."  Beta-carotene also boosts the function of certain immune cells that surround and consume germs in the body. Cream of Squash and Sweet Potato Soup  (one of my favorite winter soups!) supplies beta-carotene by the boatload!

Vitamin D: Emerging evidence suggests that getting adequate vitamin D may help to reduce the risk of infections in the respiratory tract, such as colds and flu.

Without adequate vitamin D-rich foods and dietary supplements, vitamin D levels can plummet in the bloodstream, particularly during the winter months, and possibly increasing your risk of infection.

Everyone over the age of one needs 600 International Units (IU) of vitamin D daily, the equivalent of six, eight-ounce glasses of Hood Milk  or Simply Smart Milk , which provides 100 IU of vitamin D per glass.  If you don't get enough from food, consider a multivitamin with about 400 IU of vitamin D in it.

Healthy fats: Omega-3 fats, the beneficial fats found in seafood, may increase the activity of certain immune cells that gobble up germs.   Try to include at least two servings of fish a week.  Clam Chowder offers omega-3 fats, vitamin D, and protein, too.

Elizabeth M. Ward

Elizabeth M. Ward

Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D., is a writer, nutrition consultant, and mother of three. She is the author of several books, including MyPlate for Moms, How to Feed Yourself & Your Family Better and Expect the Best, Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, & After Pregnancy . Ward is also a contributing writer for Muscle & Fitness Hers and Men's Fitness magazines.

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