Mumbai’s winters aren’t all that cold, but they sure are dry. Less moisture in the air means more dust particles will be present. Dust carries more than 200 viruses that infect our upper respiratory tracts. Influenza, or flu, is a respiratory tract infection caused by various viruses and its symptoms include fatigue, fever and headaches. It spreads through air (when someone sneezes or coughs) and contact with a contaminated object, like a handkerchief used by one who’s caught cold.
Needed: good immunity
Scientists have unravelled the complex mechanism of the immune system and its dependence on diet. A well-functioning immune system makes a difference to your health — if your immunity is good, you can fight everything from common cold and viral infections to stomach disorders, chronic fatigue and even, it is believed, cancer. Antioxidants found in some food items stimulate immune functioning and increase your resistance to infections.
Drop the pill, eat healthy
Instead of turning to medicine, try natural flu-fighters present in foodstuffs. Here are some guidelines you can follow:
* Stay hydrated: Take plenty of fluids in the form of warm water, soups, juices and broths to flush out the toxins.
* Eat Vitamin C: This vitamin is known for its positive effects on our immune system. It helps prevent and treat colds by helping our body to destroy invasive viruses and bacteria. Sources include oranges, amla, sweet lime, broccoli, pineapple, cabbage, cauliflower, and sweet potato. If you smoke, make sure you get an extra dose of this vitamin, as smoking steps up the body’s need for this vitamin and increases your risk of getting flu.
* Eat garlic: It may smell a lot, but this vegetable helps fight bacteria and virus. A blood test of some garlic eaters (those who ate 15 cloves a day) revealed that they had more potent T-lymphocytes and macrophages, which increase immunity, than non-garlic eaters.
* Slurp up more honey: Yet another flu fighter, honey is full of antioxidants with muco-kinetic properties (it helps clear the air tracts). It has long been used to help treat sore throats and other bacterial infections. It also assists in the growth of friendly bacteria in the intestine and thus improves digestive health.
* Dice your ginger: This tuber contains a natural plant compound called gingerol that helps fight off infections and flu. Have it in tea, or make fresh juice and mix it with honey and water.
* Eat you radishes: An excellent remedy for thinning down mucous, clearing sinuses, a blocked nose, and mucous-related migraine. Radishes are best eaten raw.
* Get your quota of zinc: Foods rich in the mineral zinc are known to improve immunity levels. These include whole grain cereals like bajra, jowar, wheat bran, wheat germ, all shellfish, peanuts, most lentils, skimmed milk, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, and spinach.
* Antioxidants are essential: Vitamin A, selenium, chromium, zinc and the vitamins C and E are rich in antioxidants so consume them daily either in the natural form or in as supplements. Foods rich in beta-carotene and Vitamin include carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, broccoli, spinach, apricots, peaches, and cherries.
* Hit the herb route: Echinacea is known to strengthen the immune system as it has antiviral and antibacterial properties. It is especially effective against the cold virus and may be taken at the very onset of flu like symptoms.
* Stuff yourself with spicy food: Any food that makes your eyes water will have the same effect on your nose, which is to clear up congestion. Drink a bowl of spicy chicken clear soup containing ginger, cloves and garam masala.
* What to avoid: Milk and other dairy products make you feel worse when you have the flu.
While good nutrition may not always eliminate the chances of contracting the flu, it does help in strengthening our immune system and lessening the duration and severity of flu symptoms.
Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and the founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre