The George Mateljan Foundation, a not-for-profit foundation with no commercial interests, is a new force for change to help make a healthier you and a healthier world.

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What to eat to prevent flu and colds

Eating health-promoting foods that increase immune function is a major factor in preventing flu and colds. That's because it's not just a viral infection in your upper respiratory system that causes a cold - it's your body's susceptibility to the virus that really counts. Many factors - including stress, exposure to toxins (such as cigarette smoke and polluted air), excessive exercise, and poor sleep - influence your body's susceptibility to flu and cold viruses. Getting important immune-supporting nutrients from your food, while reducing your intake of food additives that can stress your body, is a very important step in promoting health, both in cold and flu season, as well as throughout the year.

What foods to eat more often

The World's Healthiest Foods are health-promoting foods that help prevent flu and colds. Select foods rich in vitamin A (including beta-carotene and the other carotenoids), vitamin E, and vitamin C. The best sources of vitamins C, A and carotenoids include carrots, spinach, cabbage, kale, red bell peppers, mustard greens, oranges and melons. Many aspects of our immune function are compromised when we are deficient in vitamin C, so much so that Nobel Prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling paid special attention to vitamin C in some of his later work. The vitamin A foods are critical for supporting the lining of our lungs and function of our lymph glands. You can use our Recipe Assistant to find recipes that contain these foods, like our Mediterranean Kale or our Romaine and Avocado Salad. Vitamin E foods are critical for maintenance of our white blood cell function. (Our white cells are one of the major components of our immune system). Foods rich in vitamin E include the green leafy vegetables, sunflower seeds and almonds. Once again, our Recipe Assistant will take you to some tasty examples of vitamin E-supplying meals including our Steamed Salmon and Asparagus.

The minerals selenium and zinc are also particularly important when it comes to immune support. Both of these minerals are commonly found in nuts, seeds, and mushrooms, as well as calf's liver when it comes to zinc and fish when it comes to selenium. The thymus gland, which has been called the "master gland" of the immune system, is an immune organ that seems especially responsive to our zinc levels. When we don't get enough of this mineral in our food, our thymus gland clearly becomes compromised in its ability to help keep us protected from infection. Selenium is no less important due to its influence on our immune cell (macrophage) function and its ability to help protect our immune cell membranes from oxygen damage.

Finally, the omega-3 fatty acids are needed to produce our immune system regulators (called prostaglandins). These high-quality essential fats are largely deficient in the U.S. diet. You couldn't do better here than flax seeds, walnuts, and cold water fish like salmon.

What foods to avoid

Eating highly processed foods as well as those that contain synthetic colors, sweeteners, flavors and texturizers can decrease your immune function and be a major factor in increasing your body's susceptibility to cold and flu viruses. By following the Healthier Way of Eating you will be able to avoid many of the foods that can compromise immunity. That is because the World's Healthiest Foods do not include highly processed foods nor those that are treated with additives and preservatives. These foods can cause a drain on your overall health. Our Healthier Way of Eating also emphasizes and encourages purchase of certified organic foods since the pesticides, heavy metals, and solvent residues found in non-organic food are among the most immune-damaging molecules we can ingest. Buying organic will ensure that these immune-lowering factors in our food will be kept to an absolute minimum. Filtered water or spring water would also be important for avoiding these same immune-lowering factors that are found in most tap water.

To keep your immune system at its best, it is important to avoid exposing cooking oils and fats to high heat since this can produce immune-system damaging substances. That is why you'll also find our food approach devoid of frying in fats and oils.

Since the excessive consumption of fats and calories can lessen your immune system, it is important to shape a day's food intake in such a way that you can become full and satisfied without overeating. Our Healthier Way of Eating can help you do that.

Excessive simple sugar intake can reduce the responsiveness of your immune cells and lower your immune defenses. That's why another factor you'll find missing in our approach is routine consumption of simple sugars. Most of the sugar in our meal plans comes from fruit and other foods that contain sugar in a natural and balanced amount with other nutrients.

Don't give in to the idea that you're destined to catch a cold this season! Try some of the suggestions above to support your immune system while enjoying the pleasure of whole, natural, fresh foods.