~ Fight Back with Nutrition

The Monterey County Herald, Calif., 09-23-05

You're sick. You're hacking and coughing and away at college without your mom to take care of you. It's that time of year, dear, when more than 200 viruses hit their peak and make you feel miserable ... right when school starts.

Your doctor said antibiotics don't help viruses. What will? Besides listening to your mother, here's a list from health experts:

  • Eat (a word that means "put into your mouth, chew and swallow") at least 2 cups of fresh fruit each day. Peel that orange! Bite into those strawberries! Your blood will soon be streaming with nutrients such as vitamin C to fight that nasty cold. Vitamin C also inactivates histamine, the substance responsible for your runny nose and congestion.

  • Eat (see previous definition) at least 2 cups of something green or red or bright orange (M&Ms don't count) for lunch or dinner. Brightly colored greens and other vegetables contain large doses of immune-enhancing substances that fight off disease.

  • Crush a couple of cloves of fresh garlic into your food or salad dressing each day. It may not help your love life, but can stimulate your immune system to better fight off viruses.

  • Wash your hands. With soap and warm water. Often. It keeps viruses from spreading.

  • Take a daily multivitamin with 100 percent of the daily value (DV) for the major vitamins and minerals listed on the label. Supplements can't take the place of a good diet, but they can fill in the gaps on those days when you choose deep-fried mozzarella sticks over vegetables.

  • Add nutrient-rich foods to your diet - foods that give you a nutritional bang for a smidgen of calories. Spinach, for example. (It's in that section of the grocery store known as "produce.") Put a handful on your sandwich or as a colorful addition to your macaroni and cheese. Voila! One cup is just 7 calories and is loaded with vitamin A from beta carotene - a potent antioxidant that protects your precious cells from infections.

  • Practice eating a wide variety of foods. According to the American Dietetic Association, this is the best strategy to keep you healthy for life. Like that stir-fry place you took me to on my last visit. The waitress gave each of us a bowl to fill with our choice of assorted fresh vegetables, fruit, lean meats, fish, chicken, tofu, nuts and seasonings. A guy sizzled our food selection on a hot grill and served it back to us over rice or noodles. Yummy variety!

  • Get enough protein. Foods such as lean meats, chicken, fish, tofu, eggs and dairy foods release protein into your blood to reinforce your body's disease-fighting front line. Zinc - a mineral found abundantly in lean meat - works with protein to strengthen your immune system as well.

  • Eat two cups of non-fat yogurt - it contains "good" bacteria that battle the growth of harmful germs in your intestinal tract - and call your mother in the morning.

(Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, Calif.)

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