Feel Better Food

In just a few short months, Old Man Winter will creep into our lives once again, bringing with him--among other things--cold and flu season. Some of you may already be experiencing minor forms of these illnesses as summer gives way to fall, but rest assured that the worst is yet to come. Flu shots taken this time of year provide a formidable defense against the nasty influenza virus that causes its victims to projectile vomit Saltines and Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup across the room while they alternately shudder and sweat, beset with chills and a fever. Of course, the major side effect a small percentage of flu shot customers experience is the flu itself, so be prepared. Hey, modern medicine ain't perfect. As far as those nasty winter "colds" are concerned, there's no shot and--as with all viruses--no cure. You're not completely helpless, though. Believe it or not, what you eat has a lot to do with how susceptible your body is to these viruses (you never get the same cold twice), the severity of the symptoms you'll experience, how long your cold will last and how many colds you're likely to "catch." Pamper your immune system this winter, and you'll spend more time skiing and less time blowing blobs of thick, yellow mucous into Kleenex. Maintaining your Taco Bell/Schlitz diet this winter, though, is likely to result in a season spent flat on your back, coughing your lungs out. AN OUNCE OF PREVENTIONYour best defense against minor illnesses such as colds and flu is to bolster your immune system. And while some strains of these viruses are quite strong and stubborn, your own nutritionally sound body is able to put up a good fight. Grandmother's old bit about starving a fever is nonsense, but you have to feed yourself correctly in order to have any hope at all of a relatively sick-free winter. Below are a few tips to arming yourself with food.* First and foremost, Vitamin C is your best friend. It is also one of your strongest allies on the cold front. Everybody knows how to get it, the trick is to get more of it. In fact, you almost can't get too much of it. Doctors have a name for the condition caused by "overdosing" on vitamins--it's called hypervitaminosis. It is rare. You will not get it. There's no scientific evidence that 2,000 milligrams of Vitamin C a day will prevent you from getting a cold, but your symptoms will be much milder in the event you do take sick.* Vitamin supplements are a good idea year-round and especially during the impending heavy winter (according to the current Farmers Almanac, we're in for a wet one). Choose the most complete supplement you can find, and take it religiously.* Regulate your intake of alcoholic beverages. Anyone who tells you a shot of bourbon will "kill" that sore throat of yours is an alcoholic and probably wants you to be one, too. The truth is, alcohol--even in small amounts--lowers white blood cell production and weakens your immune system. Bad for you. * Chlorophyll is known in holistic circles as "nature's antibiotic." Though it is not medically proven to be a viable substitute for penicillin or any of the other 'cillins or 'cyns, it has shown promise as an immune system booster. It's available at herb stores and, at the very least, won't harm you. EATING YOURSELF BACK TO HEALTHSo you took the advice above and still got sick. Bummer, but those are the breaks. It's important to keep in mind that, although the human body is pretty good at fixing itself, it doesn't always know what's best for it. Colds--and especially the flu--are accompanied by several unpleasant symptoms that attack your appetite and make you feel as though food is the last thing you want. It can be difficult, but you'll have to take the upper hand here. You must eat ... and drink!* Grandma's medicine wasn't always right on target, but she was right about at least one thing ... chicken soup. Studies conducted recently at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York revealed that hot chicken soup increases the flow of mucus, thereby relieving congestion. The specific ingredient in chicken soup that contributes to its healing properties has yet to be identified, but at least you now have some scientific basis for slurping the stuff down your raw, irritated throat.* Forcing fluids is across-the-board advice for victims for colds and flu. Liquids--good old water, fruit juices, herbal teas, sport drinks, etc.--help replace crucial minerals and fluids lost due to increased sweating caused by fevers associated with these illnesses. Avoid beverages that contain caffeine. Caffeine is a drug that contributes to dehydration. Dehydration is a condition that can have serious consequences--especially to the liver and kidneys. Remember, once you're down sick with a cold or the flu, it will run its course. The more fluids you drink, the faster and better able your body will be to metabolize nutrients to combat the bad germs. * Stay as far away from dairy foods as possible. They contain bacteria that further annoy your digestive system and cause an increase in mucus production. * An increased intake of carbohydrates during your illness is of the utmost importance. Carbohydrates are the fuel your body uses to maintain its metabolism. Colds and flu sap this energy, making it more difficult for your organs to do their various jobs. Breads, cereals and pasta are rich sources of carbohydrates. If you're down with the flu and can't take solid food, most sport drinks contain a reasonable amount of carbohydrates. Significantly increasing your intake of protein, on the other hand, can do more harm than good. Most proteins require considerable energy in order to be processed by the body. You don't necessarily need to cut back on your protein intake (although most Americans get too much of it in their diet), but be aware that your sick body will struggle a bit with it. Some friends of mine swear by an obscure White Trash remedy made by mixing macaroni 'n' cheese and baked beans. I don't know if it works, but it does taste pretty good ... surprisingly enough. The real trick to fighting off colds and flu is to eat healthy, balanced meals supplemented by vitamins and lots of fluids. Get enough sleep, and don't allow your illness to talk you into skipping meals. Take care of yourself this winter and give these common illnesses a run for their money.

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