When family and friends gather for the holidays, they bring more than gifts--they bring germs that cause colds and the flu.
So prepare yourself. Not with aspirin and cold tablets, but with a good diet. Eating a balanced diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, cooked dried beans and other legumes does more for a body than vitamin pills or "super" foods.
Dietitian Barbara Berry's message: "Eat your colors: red, orange- yellow, green, blue and white. You need something from each of the five color groups. Every day."
Scientists are learning that the naturally occurring chemicals that give vegetables their colors benefit the body.
A number of studies show that carotenoids, the chemicals in plants that make fruits and vegetables look yellow, orange and green, stimulate the human immune system's T-cells. T-cells, in turn, help kill bacteria and viruses, said Rick Weissinger, a dietitian who works with Berry at the Delaware-based Produce for Better Health Foundation.
"People who consume green, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables have a better chance of not going on to develop a secondary or bacterial infection after they get a simple common cold virus," Weissinger said.
The best way to get carotenoids and other beneficial plant chemicals is to eat the whole food: potatoes with their skins on and whole apples, not applesauce.
The nutrients in whole, fresh oranges, for example, do more than a carton of orange juice. The fleshy pulp helps your body regulate histamine in the blood stream, Weissinger said. If you eat the whole orange, you may avoid the misery of excess histamine (runny nose, watery eyes) and taking antihistamine tablets.
Berry says scientists also are learning that the whole orange does more good when it's eaten as part of a diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables. Vitamins, minerals, fiber and plant chemicals, such as beta-carotene in carrots, do more good together than one nutrient does alone. "It's the food synergy message," Berry said.
Weissinger heeds that message. He recently felt a cold coming on when family and co-workers were ill. So for dinner, he ate a sweet potato, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries and drank green tea.
"I slept 10 hours," he said. "The next day, I felt fine."
Fight the Flu With Food
- Grab two pieces of fresh fruit, for snacks, on your way out the door in the morning.
- Stock your freezer with frozen vegetables of all kinds. Add to canned soup, stir-fry, casseroles and pizza toppings.
- Keep dried fruit in your desk and car for snacking.
- For holiday get-togethers, buy a party tray with assorted vegetables, including carrots, broccoli and cauliflower.
- When you turn on the grill to cook a steak, toss on thickly sliced vegetables basted with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Bell peppers, onions, zucchini and eggplant are a good place to start.
- Resolve to try a new fruit or vegetable every week in the new year.
The Best Colors
Romaine, spinach or other leafy green lettuce
Green bell pepper
Peach or nectarine
Pumpkin, butternut squash or other winter squash