Adults, on average, get one or two colds a year. In order not to become just another statistic this coming winter, start strengthening your immune system now by making sure your foods contain antioxidants. Antioxidants can play an important role in the prevention of the common cold, and as they are found in a variety of foods it shouldn’t be too difficult to include them in your daily diet.
So what are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are chemical compounds that stop free radicals damaging healthy cells. Free radicals occur naturally when the body uses oxygen and contribute to diseases such as heart disease, and cancer. Antioxidants are best taken in the form of food. For example, it’s believed that people who consume more than five pieces of fruit and vegetables a day reduce their risk of a stroke by 25 per cent compared to those who eat less than three daily servings. Antioxidants may also boost the immune system and so reduce the risk of cancer and infections such as colds.
Where do I get them?
Antioxidants can be found in the following:
Vitamin A and Carotenoids
These are found in carrots, squash, broccoli, sweet potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, peaches and apricots.
Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid)
Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits such as oranges and lemons. Vitamin C is also present in bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kiwi fruit, strawberries, and potatoes.
Vitamin C is particularly good for strengthening the immune system and, therefore, helping to prevent colds, so these foods should be eaten often.
Foods rich in vitamin E are nuts, seeds, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, vegetable oil and liver oil.
Selenium is an antioxidant that helps boosts the body’s defenses against bacteria, viruses and cancer cells. Selenium can be found in nuts (specifically Brazil nuts), cereals, meat, seafood, fish, eggs, and garlic.
Bioflavonoids act as antioxidants, and are believed to enhance the absorption of vitamin C. They are beneficial in treating viral infections, so are useful in combating colds. Bioflavonoids can be found in fruit, vegetables, green tea, soy products, herbs and spices.
The herb echinacea, although not an antioxidant, is believed to activate the immune system. While there might not be any proof that taking echinacea can prevent catching a cold, it is reported that it can ease the symptoms of a cold and shorten its life. So remember this if all else fails!
Zinc is also useful in treating a cold. Zinc can function as an antioxidant in the body, and it’s believed that sucking on zinc lozenges at the onset of a cold can help reduce its duration. Zinc is found in oysters, red meat, and poultry.
Eating probiotic yogurt is another way to prevent infection. The bacteria keep the gut healthy and help boost the immune system, so can help guard against a cold.
Although we hear it all the time, it’s probably worth repeating: stop smoking! Smoking contributes to oxidative stress (the damage caused by free radicals in the body), so if you’re serious about dodging a cold then maybe now really is the time to give up.
Also make sure that you get an adequate night’s sleep, and reduce your exposure to stress. These measures are, of course, not only beneficial in dealing with—or avoiding—colds, but in improving and/or maintaining a healthy lifestyle in general.