Healthy Eating To Ward Off Colds And Viruses


Haley Willison, M.S., R.D.
St. Luke’s Wood River Nutritional Services

Just because it’s getting warmer doesn’t mean the colds and viruses are gone. Good nutrition is essential for a strong immune system year-round. A balanced diet of complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, fruits, vegetables and lean protein help us stay healthy and happy! Complex carbs, such as whole grains that are high in fiber, can help to boost serotonin levels. Healthy fats should comprise about 30 percent of our total daily calories. Including fats with omega-3 fatty acids that are found in cold-water fatty fish, nuts, seeds and plant oils can help to fight inflammation. Lean protein, such as seafood, poultry, eggs, beans and nuts, are important to assist with healing and recovery.

Eating a balanced diet with adequate calories is one of the easiest ways to support your immune system and metabolism year-round. Studies show that eating a very low-calorie diet and eating a very high-calorie diet both increase the risk for infectious disease.

Antioxidants, such as vitamins C, E, A and zinc, are important to obtain from food to help us combat colds, allergies, and to promote healing. During sickness, your body has excess free radicals, which can reduce immunity and cause inflammation in the body. Antioxidants neutralize these free radicals, which reduces their capacity to cause damage.

Antioxidants such as vitamin C are not made in the body, so we must get this nutrient from our food. Vitamin C is important for immune function and iron absorption, as well as for healthy bones and skin. Citrus, red bell pepper, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli and spinach are delicious ways to get the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of 90 milligrams (mg) for men and 75 mg for women.

Vitamin E, another important antioxidant, is found in foods such as sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, peanut butter and sunflower oil. RDA for vitamin E for adults is 15 mg.

Vitamin A is an antioxidant that keeps skin and tissues in the mouth, stomach, intestines and respiratory system healthy. Eating sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, spinach, red bell peppers, apricots, and eggs are all wonderful ways to reach the vitamin A RDA of 900 micrograms (mcg) for men and 700 mcg for women. Zinc is also very important for immune system function, helping to fight infection. Lean meats, whole-grain products, beans, nuts and seeds are also excellent sources to fulfill the RDA of 11 mg for men and 8 mg for women.

Consuming locally grown food, within 100 miles of home, is picked at peak nutrition value and does not have far to travel. Non-local food is picked before it is fully ripe, then transported an average of 1500 miles from the farm to the store in environments that lower the foods’ nutritional value and can often be more expensive, depending on how far it was shipped. Produce begins to lose its nutrients within 24 hours of being picked. Both canned and frozen produce are always picked at their peak nutritional value and are an easy and affordable way to get a variety of nutrients during every season.

It is recommended to check with your medical provider before beginning a new exercise or dietary routine. To find a doctor or to learn more about our dietitians and clinical nutritional services, contact St. Luke’s Center for Community Health at (208) 727-8733 or visit

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