Sneezing Up a Storm
By: Tara DelloIacono Thies
Sniffling, sneezing and coughing around the office signals arrival of cold and flu season. Offices, classrooms, daycares and crowded buses offer plenty of opportunities to spread the common cold. While there is no cure for a cold, there are actions you can take to lessen the severity of a cold and, better yet, decrease your chance of catching one.
Try not to get hit with a bug by revving up your natural defenses and taking the preventative approach to cold and flu season. Nutrition, rest, and good hygiene are three easy approaches to fighting colds and flus.
Nutrient deficiencies open the door for colds; therefore nutrition is our first line of defense for cold season. Preventative action starts with adequate intake of nutrients. A strong nutrition foundation to spring from includes adequate amounts of vitamin C and a balance of carbohydrate and protein. If a cold catches up with you, zinc and Echinacea may provide some relief.
Following a nutrient-packed meal plan will keep you feeling well. A common myth is that loading up on supplements will prevent you from catching that less-than-sexy, sneezy, runny nose. Loading up on excessive amounts of expensive supplements does not prevent a cold; however, a deficiency in nutrients can increase your chances of getting sick.
This cold season pay particularly close attention to your source of vitamin C. I deliver the “eat-your-fruits-and-veggies” message as often as I can. Some may say, “an orange a day keeps the colds away.”
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and a deficiency in C can weaken the immune system. The new RDA for women is 70 mg per day and 90mg for men. Getting enough is easy when you eat a few servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Consume 2-3 pieces of fruit per day and 5 or more servings of vegetables.
Here’s how easy it is to get what you need:
- 60 miligrams (mg) Vitamin C in 4 oz. OJ
- 45 mg C in 1/2 a grapefruit
- 9 mg C 1 cup spinach salad
Voila! That’s 114 mg of Vitamin C. An orange or a grapefruit cost less than a supplement, plus they provide more than just vitamin C, such as fiber and sustenance. Of course, we’re all busy and some days it is challenging to uphold our nutritious meal plan. In that case, for coverage, consider taking a multivitamin the supplies no more than 100% of the RDA of any vitamin or mineral.
Carbohydrate from whole grains sources is also important to maintain a strong immune system. Consuming too few carbohydrates can deplete the body’s energy source to fight off the creeping cold. Be sure to consume 6-11 servings of whole grains per day. This allows your muscles and brain to have enough energy to function throughout the day.
Protein is also important in supporting a well-rounded diet and strong defenses against colds. Make room in your meal plan for two to three 3-4 oz. servings of meat, fish, poultry, or meat substitutes such as beans, tofu, or soy. Protein is a building block for strong immune system.
Think Zinc and Drink!
Zinc is a mineral often listed in the latest cold remedies. Zinc research to date is controversial regarding its effects on cold symptoms. You most often find zinc added to throat lozenges. Taking excess amounts of zinc will not prevent you from getting sick but some research shows that supplementing when cold symptoms appear can decrease the duration and severity of the cold. On the other hand, there is research showing no benefit from zinc supplementation during a cold.
It is important to be aware of how much zinc you consume because taking too much zinc can be toxic and interfere with copper and iron absorption. It is best to check out your dietary sources before adding zinc supplements to the diet. Zinc can be found in beef, chicken, seafood, and dairy items. The RDA for zinc is 8 mg for women and 11 mg for men. Consuming foods naturally containing zinc along with foods fortified with zinc can help you meet your RDA and costs much less than a supplement.
Some food sources of zinc:
- 1 cup milk = 1 mg
- 4 oz salmon = 1 mg
- 3 oz. Beef = 6 mg
- Chicken = 1.5 mg
- Brown rice = 1 mg
- Potatoes = 1 mg
- LUNA bar = 5.25 mg
- Fortified cereal = 2-10 mg depending on cereal
Protein from animal sources aids in zinc absorption while compounds found in grains decrease absorption. If you follow a vegan lifestyle, you may find it challenging to get enough zinc from foods and need to consider a supplement.
Echinacea is one of the more popular natural cold remedies. Some studies support the use of Echinacea starting at the first sign of a cold to shorten the time a cold may linger. There is not a lot of evidence and support for this. One problem is there are several types of Echinacea plants. Echinacea purpurea is the form that has shown enough potential for relieving cold symptoms for German Commission E, an agency similar to the Food and Drug Administration that regulates herbs, to recommend it. Taking Echinacea in hopes that it will prevent a cold is fruitless. Echinacea has never been shown to prevent a cold and long-term intake seems to decrease any chance of its effectiveness.
Don’t forget, part of being well is drinking enough fluid. Staying hydrated helps you feel better and flush nutrients throughout your system. If you have a hard time staying hydrated with water, try non-caffeinated teas, juices or spring water to help you meet your daily need of eight 8 oz. glasses of fluid per day.
Get Enough Sleep
Overworking and under-resting can increase stress, weakening your immune system. Shorter days in the fall may lead to longer nights of soccer practices, late dinners and homework or plain preparation for a busy tomorrow. As you adjust to your fall routine make sure you leave time for adequate rest. Try to plan your a little downtime into your day.
Keep It Clean
To prevent the spread of germs be sure to wash your hands and keep them away from your face. Sickness can easily pass from one hand to the other or from one doorknob to the next. Wash your hands before you eat and frequently throughout the day.
Whether at work or play, if you find yourself around a sneeze-y nose-blower, offer up some of the suggestions above. Do the both of you the favor of sending Ms. Sniffles home to rest. Meanwhile, make sure nutrient deficits, lack of sleep and poor hygiene are not compounding factors increasing your chances of catching a cold from your neighbor. With that in mind head into the fall and winter months with your shield up using good nutrition, plenty of rest and clean hands.
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