It is the season of flu. While the weather changes from mild to cold, it is easy to get the cold or flu with a simple and innocent sneeze. However, before hitting the pharmacy or even before getting viruses, you can easily protect yourself from getting ill during the winter.
Dietitian Salih Gürel underlined that there is an increase in the prevalence of colds and infectious diseases, especially the global flu epidemic with the weather getting colder and colder every day. Gürel suggested that in addition to measures such as vaccination and attention to personal hygiene rules, adequate and balanced nutrition for strengthening the immune system also plays a vital role in the prevention of these diseases, warning that individuals with inadequate and unbalanced feeding habits have a higher risk of developing colds and infectious diseases, and their illness maintain a more severe course.
Gürel said flu is a virus-induced respiratory disease which is highly contagious and usually passes on to another person from an infected person by coughing, sneezing and hand contact, stating that adults are infectious until one day before the onset of symptoms and up to seven days after becoming ill, which means that even if people do not know they have the flu, they can be infectious. “Therefore, an outbreak of influenza can last for weeks if a large number of people in the country are infected with the virus. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) data, between 5% and 15% of the world's population suffer from upper respiratory infections in annual flu outbreaks,” Gürel added.
Protect yourself with a healthy diet
Gürel stressed that those who want to be protected from influenza should retain a healthy and balanced diet. Recalling that due to the intense influenza cases in recent days, various recommendations are made about nutrition in the written and visual media, especially with regards to the protective effects of some foods, Güral highlighted that ensuring food diversity, making the right choices, and providing continuity in adequate and balanced nutrition are much more effective in preventing diseases.
“Vitamins B and C are water-soluble vitamins that are not stored in our bodies. To keep our immune system strong, we need to eat fruits of the citrus class and vegetables of the season regularly,” Gürel continued. “Vegetables and fruits help growth and development as well as cell renewal and tissue repair and are also effective in the formation of resistance to diseases. Consumption of various colors and types of vegetables and fruits is important for adequate and balanced nutrition. Be sure to consume vegetables and fruits at every meal, including breakfast, and at least five servings (400 grams) should be consumed per day.”
According to Gürel, in addition to carrot, broccoli, zucchini, cabbage, cauliflower, parsley that are rich in antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin A and C, which strengthen the defense system, fruits such as orange, tangerine, apple and grapefruit which are abundant in winter can be preferred, and it is more appropriate to consume them in their season due to their nutritional value, affordable price and availability. Pointing to the importance of consuming fresh fruits and vegetables, Gürel stressed that since most of the vitamins and minerals are found in the outer leaves, peels or just below the skin of vegetables and fruits, the edible ones should not be peeled and, if necessary, peeled as thin as possible. “Since some vitamins, such as vitamins B and C, are easily lost by heat, vegetables should be cooked as soon as possible in a way to maintain their vitality. Boiling water of vegetables should never be spilled due to the losses in most of the water-soluble vitamins (vitamin C, B2, folic acid, et cetera),” he further underlined.
Vitamin intake from fruits
Gürel said freshly squeezed fruit juices could also be consumed in terms of meeting the need for vitamin C and contributing to liquid intake. Touching on the importance of drinking fruit juices immediately after squeezing, since vitamin C level in the juice decreases as it waits, Gürel highlighted that fruits and vegetables should be washed thoroughly with plenty of water before consuming, if necessary, a washing brush should be used, but detergent or soap should not be used in the process.
“Vitamin E is also effective in strengthening the immune system since it increases body resistance against colds and other infections and prevents oxidation of vitamin A,” Gürel said, adding it is important to consume sufficient amounts of green leafy vegetables, oilseeds such as hazelnuts, walnuts and dried legumes, which are good sources of vitamin E. “However, it is more beneficial to consume legumes with cereals and vitamin C-rich foods to improve protein quality,” he further explained. “If possible, a handful of oilseeds, such as hazelnuts, walnuts, et cetera, should be eaten. An egg is a food of the highest protein quality. It is useful to consume one well-cooked egg each day, except in the cases of allergies or illnesses.”
Pointing out that fish is a good source of polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-3), calcium, phosphorus, selenium and iodine minerals, which are essential for the development of brain functions, and helps to strengthen the immune system, Gürel said it is suitable to be consumed by steaming, grilling or cooking in the oven two to three times a week. “In summary, nutrients are collected under four nutrient groups, and the nutrients in the same group replace each other. These include milk, yogurt, cheese in the dairy group; meat, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, oilseeds, et cetera, in the meat group; bread, bulgur, pasta, rice, corn, tarhana, et cetera, in the grain group; and vegetables and fruits. These foods should be consumed in sufficient amounts every day,” he concluded.