Flu season is a fitting time to take the saying, “You are what you eat,” to heart. A diet rich in yogurt, garlic, fruits and lean meat can bolster your immune system. While an annual flu shot is the best weapon for keeping the bug at bay, these foods contain nutrients that help fight off errant germs that elude the vaccination and the other standard weapons for stopping the spread of flu and colds – frequent hand washing and coughing into your elbow or sleeve.

Nonfat and low-fat yogurt and other cultured dairy products in their nonfat/low-fat versions contain probiotics, “good bacteria” similar to what is normally found in your body. Probiotics may help your body defend against the flu and other respiratory ailments, and low-fat/nonfat foods are not full of “bad” LDL cholesterol and calories. The Dairy Council of California says, when shopping for these products, check for the “live active culture” seal which lets you know that what you are buying does in fact contain probiotics.

Garlic’s sulfur compounds are what scientists point to as the source of this vegetable’s immune-boosting capabilities. When adding fresh garlic to your food, crush the cloves first to release the juice which is where the immune properties are located.

Fruits including oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, kiwi, cantaloupe and papaya along with vegetables like brussels sprouts and red peppers contain vitamin C or ascorbic acid. Vitamin C helps your body produce infection-fighting antibodies. Many people reach for vitamin C tablets at the first sign of a cold in the belief that massive doses will lessen the severity of illness. While research on the validity of this claim is mixed, researchers agree that vitamin C is essential to good health.

Lean cuts of beef and pork, shellfish like crabs and oysters, nuts, beans and fortified cereals contain zinc, a mineral essential for a healthy immune system, wound healing and treating gastrointestinal infections. Thanks to its germ-fighting capabilities, zinc is also used in some throat lozenges to help kill bacteria and viruses.

Although all of the flu-fighting elements in these foods are available as over-the-counter dietary supplements, pills are not a substitute for obtaining the nutrients found in meat, fruits and vegetables. They should be regarded as complements to your regular diet and used accordingly. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS) supplements can have side effects and may interact with prescription medications. Check with your health provider and pharmacist before taking any supplements to be sure they don’t cause problems for you.

The LHSFNA’s newest health alert, Seasonal Influenza, addresses a variety of flu issues and concerns. It is available through the Fund’s online catalogue.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]