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Tips to Stay Health During Cold and Flu Season

February 11, 2022


By Amanda Koch, RD

Sneezing, scratchy throat, runny nose — everyone knows the first signs of a cold, probably the most common illness known. These symptoms are usually caused by a viral infection. Although the common cold is usually mild, with symptoms lasting 1 to 2 weeks, it is a leading cause of doctor visits and missed days from school and work.

Symptoms to Watch For

In the course of a year, people in the U.S. suffer 1 billion colds, according to some estimates.

Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death.

Flu is different from a cold. Flu usually comes on suddenly. People who have flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:

  • fever* or feeling feverish/chills
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • muscle or body aches
  • headaches
  • fatigue (tiredness)
  • some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults

*It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever. *

According to a 2018 CDC study, about 8% of the U.S. population gets sick from flu each season.

Maintaining a Healthy Immune System

To promote a healthy immune system, try eating more plant-based foods that are whole, unprocessed, and unrefined. Plant foods are full of antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals that help strengthen the immune system.

Focus on eating the brightly colored fruits and vegetables.  Examples would be broccoli, green beans, tomatoes, green and red peppers, blue berries, strawberries, spinach, peaches and watermelon. They also contain fiber, which helps feed the healthy bacteria that live in our gut. The microbiome in our gut contains 60-70% of the body’s immune cells. A variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans, and whole grains will provide lots of vitamins and minerals to help you heal.

Vitamin D helps regulate the immune system and may reduce the risk of upper respiratory tract infections, such as those seen in the common cold. Food sources of Vitamin D include salmon, eggs, mushrooms, and Vitamin D fortified milk and yogurt.

Zinc is essential for the regulation of the immune response. Although more research is needed, some studies have shown that zinc supplementation may shorten the duration of a cold by 33%. Food sources of zinc include quinoa, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, mushrooms, garbanzo beans, and any kind of lentils.

Vitamin C can help boost your immune system, which is important when you’re sick. Food sources of Vitamin C include strawberries, oranges, tomatoes, kiwi, and other citrus fruits.

It’s important to get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids while you are sick to prevent dehydration.  Avoid sugar sweetened beverage like regular soda, sugar sweetened tea, Kool-Aid’s and fruit punches. Focus on more water and flavored waters that do not contain sugar.

See a Dietitian

If you are carrying around any extra unwanted pounds from the holidays, ask your doctor for a referral to see the dietitian! Dietitians can provide individualized counseling to help you shed those pounds or, if you feel you would do better with a team-based approach, ask your doctor about a referral to our Lose to Gain program. You will work with our board-certified obesity medicine specialist, a dietitian, and a counselor to help you lose weight and keep it off for good!  We have had excellent results!



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