Fighting the Flu

Flu season is rearing its ugly head, surrounding us with a cacophony of sniffles, sneezes, and coughs. It’s a good opportunity to build on last week’s post with a more generalized theme: the common cold and flu. It is important to know how to keep your immune system strong to fight off sickness. So, whether you’re sick or trying to stay healthy, here is what you need to know about warding off diseases.


chicken brothAs simple as it sounds, a well-balanced diet is vital to keeping your body healthy. Your immune system relies on a wide variety of minerals and vitamins to function efficiently. Research has not identified any vitamin or nutrient that can single-handedly boost your immune system, so it’s important to consume a recommended balance of micronutrients. A diet high in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, and low in added sugars and saturated or trans fats, should keep your body well-supplied. Multivitamins are beneficial to this end but should not be relied on or used to excuse a poor diet. Probiotics, found in active-culture yogurts and miso, also contribute to immune and digestive function. Of course, other healthy habits – sleeping well, exercising regularly, reducing stress, etc. – and proper sanitation – washing your hands, covering your cough, disinfecting surfaces, etc. – are also crucial.


Unlike gastrointestinal illnesses, colds and flu do not impact your digestive system enough to call for a severe change in diet. Nonetheless, there are a number of foods that will assist in symptom relief as well as combat your virus at a cellular level.

  • Gargling warm water with salt for one minute helps relieve sore throats. Salt reduces inflammation by extracting moisture from tissues and membranes and prevents bacteria from growing after flushing them out.
  • Spicy food helps thin mucus and is a natural decongestant. Garlic, cayenne, and paprika are common spices that can easily be added to any dish for this purpose.
  • Honey – in warm water or by the spoonful – soothes sore throats due to its consistency and antibacterial properties.
  • Lemon, typically used in combination with honey, has antibacterial properties, fights mucus, and can relieve pain in sore areas of the throat.
  • Warm, clear liquids soothe sore throats, thin mucus, and keep your body hydrated. Teas and broth-based soups are the best examples of this. Soup can also be a great source of nutrients because vegetables become easier to digest once they have been cooked down in broth.
  • Milk has been found to thicken phlegm, although whether or not it generates more phlegm or mucus has been debated. Avoidance is a personal decision, and consumption won’t seriously impede recovery.

Given the sensitive condition of your body, you should pay attention not only to what but to how you eat. Eat frequently to sustain your energy but in smaller portions, so as not to overwhelm your body by forcing it to break down a large meal while it’s trying to fight an infection.

Eat up and get well soon.


Foodborne Illness: Recovery

soup.sick.foodborneillness.saynotofoodwaste.healthy.happyChances are that you will contract a foodborne illness – some mild form of food poisoning or stomach flu – at least once in your life. Unfortunately, trying to avoid food waste heightens these chances, as you might attempt to salvage leftovers that have been sitting out too long or convince yourself that something hasn’t gone bad. However, food can get infected with bacteria even if it isn’t necessarily old, so sickness isn’t necessarily a result of the consumer’s poor judgment. Regardless of how the illness is contracted, the important thing to know is how to recover.

There are many types of foodborne illnesses, but the most common, least threatening ones last 1-7 days. Noroviruses (aka gastroenteritis or stomach flus) are the most prevalent foodborne illnesses in the United States and typically result from consuming improperly cooked shellfish or vegetables, meals prepared by infected handlers, or contaminated water. In addition to food and beverage consumption, though, transmission can occur via contact with an infected person. Since it is a fairly mild infection, symptoms are typically restricted to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain (Pacific Northwest Publications). Nevertheless, when your body is trying to purge itself of any kind of infection or virus, eating can become very tricky. Eating too much, too fast, or the wrong foods too soon can lead to an unpleasant relapse, so it’s important to exercise caution.

How to eat and drink without aggravating your condition:

1) Drink water, electrolytes, and sodium. Vomiting and especially diarrhea can cause dehydration and expel vital nutrients. Gatorade and broths are excellent sources of minerals. Peppermint and chamomile teas are also good for upset stomachs. Once the major ‘expulsions’ have stopped for several hours, if not an entire day, slowly try to eat. Many doctors recommend following the BRAT diet: bananas, (white) rice, applesauce, and (white) toast. Saltine crackers and plain pasta (not whole grain) are also good options. Chew these carefully and eat them in small doses. For flavor, prepare them in or combine them with chicken or vegetable stock.

3) If eating those bland, easy-to-digest foods doesn’t cause a relapse after 24 hours, gradually incorporate more foods into your diet. Some options are water-based oatmeal; dry, low-fiber cereals; boiled or grilled white poultry or fish; cooked soft vegetables; hard-boiled eggs; baked or mashed potatoes (prepared without butter or milk).

4) As your condition improves, eat these safe foods in more regular portions to test the resilience of your stomach for a day or two before returning to a regular diet.

5) Until you feel fully recovered, avoid caffeine, whole grains, milk products, high-fiber and high-sugar foods, fatty/fried/oily foods, spicy food, and raw fruits (except bananas) and vegetables. These cause dehydration, are difficult for the body to break down, or can further irritate the intestines.

With a lot of rest and careful eating, your body should recover within a few days. Normalize your diet in small steps: don’t shock your body with a milky latte, spicy fried chicken, and raw broccoli the minute you’ve passed 48 hours on step #4.

Be kind to your body and don’t overestimate your resilience.


Diarrhea Diet –
Stomach Flu – Brown University Health Education
You Can Prevent Foodborne Illness – Pacific Northwest Publications