Food as Medicine: Nourishment During Flu Season – October 13


Author: Carolyn Alecia Negley, RD

When we think of preventing and treating the flu, a few consumables come to mind — vitamin C powders, zinc supplements, chicken soup, and tea with honey. Diet, however, is just one part of the complex puzzle that is the immune system. As we find with many disease states, a balanced and varied diet, regular sleep and exercise, and reduced stress are all key players in staving off that pesky fall flu.

There is no one food that will protect you from sniffles during sweater season, but there are some nutrients known to be essential for proper immune cell function. Here’s a quick guide with some sources for each nutrient:

  • Vitamin C — Citrus, bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, white potatoes
  • Vitamin D — Fortified milk, cereal, and orange juice; salmon, tuna, beef liver
  • Zinc — Shellfish, beef, poultry, pork, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains
  • Selenium — Shellfish, beef, turkey, chicken, beans, lentils
  • Iron — Organ meats, beef, poultry, beans, lentils, spinach, nuts, seeds
  • Protein — Poultry, seafood, eggs, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains

Another key component of immunity is gut (microbiome) health. Chronic inflammation of the gut, often caused by high-sugar, low-nutrient diets, suppresses immunity. To improve gut health, the trillions of microbes living in the microbiome need to be fed certain high-fiber foods known as prebiotics and repopulated with helpful bacteria food in probiotics. Here are some good food sources for your gut:

  • Prebiotic foods — Bananas, garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus
  • Probiotic foods — Kefir, active culture yogurt, fermented foods and drinks (sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha)

Vitamin and mineral supplements help to bridge the gap when a varied diet isn’t possible, but we always recommend trying to “eat the rainbow” for a robust, vibrant diet to nourish your body. For recipe ideas, please visit:

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