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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 9 January 2005 Issue

Flu fighters help kick bugs
 By Stephanie Shapiro

Health mavens prescribe a `rainbow' of foods to help boost immune system, dodge flu, colds 

Stick to the food pyramid.
Eat a rainbow of foods.
Love thy garlic.
Food scientists, holistic healers and practitioners of folk medicine will agree that the flu, a viral infection, cannot be prevented, but it may be discouraged by eating foods that enhance the immune system.
The same holds true for that other viral scourge, the common cold.
For Elena Michaels, a naturopath in Santa Clarita, Calif., a flu-busting meal is as simple as preparing homemade vegetable soup in a big kettle,  vegetable broth. Add celery, sweet potatoes, onions and garlic ``and it can last all week,'' Michaels said.
``It's very preventive and supports the immune system,'' she said.
Steering clear of the flu is not about ``just taking a multivitamin,'' said Gretchen Heilman, a Charles Village, Md., holistic health counselor. ``A whole array of vitamins can be found in foods of all different colors.
``To keep it simple, I tell people to really eat the whole rainbow.''
With color-coded eating, you will consume a healthful range of cancer-fighting antioxidants and flavonoids (aromatic chemical compounds found in certain fruit, vegetables, teas, wines, nuts, seeds and roots that are also antioxidants).
Mark Kantor, associate professor in the nutrition and food science department at the University of Maryland, has a common-sense suggestion: Eat ``lots of fruits and vegetables and whole grains and go easy on the fats and sweets.'' Then pay extra attention to the role certain foods and nutrients play in strengthening the body's defense system.
A recent study of the elderly found, for example, that vitamins E, B-6 and B-12 ``might help boost the body's ammunition against cold and flu,'' according to the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.
Vitamin A is ``very important to the immune system,'' said Mary Ellen Camire, a food scientist at the University of Maine, who recommends squash, spinach, sweet potatoes and other vegetables in the dark orange and dark green range.
Nancy Childs, a professor of food marketing at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, is big on orange juice for its vitamin C, while Heilman cautions against juice with too much sugar, which she says depresses the immune system.
Heroux discourages consuming large amounts of sugar at the expense of other nutrients.
Flu phobics may try to front-load their diet with ``functional foods,'' which have been found to lower the risk of certain diseases.
Garlic, an herb used medicinally since antiquity, ``has been shown to have antibiotic and antiviral properties,'' Heroux said. ``You need to eat about two raw cloves a day to get maximum benefit.''
Although garlic is most effective in its raw state, ``you can take it in supplement form, freeze-dried in capsules,'' Heroux said.
Yogurt, with active or live cultures, is another functional food that experts praise for its ability to promote gastrointestinal health. Friendly bacteria, known as probiotics, can ``help to protect the body's defensive barriers by discouraging the growth of 
infectious bacteria,'' Heroux said.
Other foods with beneficial immune properties include shellfish, which contains selenium, and salmon, which is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, critical for activating disease-fighting T-cells. Black and green tea are also thought to bolster T-cell production.
Shiitake mushrooms have been used in Japan and China for centuries as an immune booster. More recent studies support their effectiveness in combating colds, flu and other maladies.
Reishi mushrooms, ginger, onions and blueberries are also thought to have immune-enhancing properties.
Above all, Heroux said, drink a lot of liquids. Not only do water and other liquids ``help flush everything through the system,'' they also prevent nasal passages from drying out, Heroux said. Dried-out nasal passages make a person more susceptible to invasion by cold or flu viruses.
Water works best, Heroux said, followed by herbal teas, regular tea, coffee, fruit juices and other drinks diluted with water and milk.

And if you make a soup full of carrots, garlic and onions, you're shoring up your immune system for the next flu season.


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