Who says you have to catch a cold or the flu this year? While there is no way to prevent 100 percent of all seasonal colds and viruses you can help protect yourself with food, exercise and a couple of common sense tips. Here are my top four common sense tips to help keep you healthy this cold and flu season:

  1. Hand washing is the easiest way to help prevent catching or spreading cold and flu germs. Washing your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol based hand sanitizer can help cut back on disease causing bacteria on your hands.
  2. Getting enough sleep helps keep your immune system running at peak performance. To avoid getting run down, aim for at least eight hours of sleep each night.
  3. Stay hydrated. Make sure you drink at least eight, eight-ounce glasses of water each day to help avoid dehydration, which can put your body at risk for infections. Water is the best way to stay hydrated. If you need a little kick, try adding the juice of one lemon, lime or orange or some fresh mint to your glass.
  4. Staying active can help keep your immunities up as well. Even if you already have a mild cold you can still participate in some moderate-intensity activity such as walking to help your body fight through your cold.

As far as foods are concerned, eating an adequate amount of vitamins and minerals can help boost your immunities as well. Vitamin C from food is a common cold fighting superstar. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that combats the adverse effects from free radicals. It also helps aid in: iron absorption; keeping your skin, gums and teeth healthy; and wound healing.

How much do you really need? Women need a recommended 75 mg of Vitamin C per day, while men need 90 mg per day; smokers need an additional 35 mg per day. Needs are different with age and increase during pregnancy and lactation. However, too much of a good thing is never a good thing. Tissue levels of Vitamin C are not increased with doses higher than 250 mg. The most your body can handle is 2,000 mg per day. It is not necessary to exceed that dosage in supplement form and in fact, excessive Vitamin C supplementation can cause diarrhea, which can dehydrate you and put your body at risk of getting sick. Always consult your doctor before starting any vitamin or mineral supplements.

You can get most of the Vitamin C you need from food. What is best, most foods high in Vitamin C are not high in calories, so consuming enough Vitamin C will not affect your weight loss goals. Below is a list of foods that are excellent sources of Vitamin C you should try to add to your diet to help keep you healthy.

- 1 cup sliced raw red bell peppers = 117 mg Vitamin C & 29 calories
- 1 ¼ cups whole strawberries = 105 mg Vitamin C & 58 calories
- 1 cup cooked broccoli = 101 mg Vitamin C & 55 calories
- 1 cup cubed cantaloupe = 58 mg Vitamin C & 54 calories
- 1 cup cooked kale = 53 mg Vitamin C & 36 calories
- 1 small orange = 51 mg Vitamin C & 45 calories
- Juice of 1 lemon = 18 mg Vitamin C & 11 calories

If you ate 1 cup of red bell peppers with 1¼ cups whole strawberries and 1 small orange in the same day, you would get 273 mg Vitamin C and only 132 calories! Try to aim for five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day to help boost your immune system and improve your overall health.

To set up an individual nutrition counseling appointment with a Registered Dietitian to evaluate your diet and set up a healthy eating plan for this cold and flu season, call EJGH Outpatient Nutrition at: (504) 849-6801.