Lately, it seems like everyone Gut Check knows either has a cold, is recovering from a cold or is awaiting the arrival of a cold. Now, Gut Check's general recommendation for fighting off a cold is to dose a bowl of pho with twice as much Sriracha as you can stand and then chase it with half a bottle of Buffalo Trace.
Much to our mother's chagrin, however, Gut Check is not now nor never will be a credentialed medical professional. So we turned to Gena Terlizzi from the office of public information at the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to see how we should adapt our diet to fight winter's one-two punch of the cold and the flu.
"While the influenza vaccine is still your best protection against the flu, frequent hand-washing, exercise and healthy food choices can also keep you from getting sick," Terlizzi says. "Eating fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C will help to keep your immune system strong. Your immune system is what protects you from viral infections, and the foods you eat have a major impact on your immune system's ability to fight off colds and flu.
"The key is not waiting until you get sick to make these changes," Terlizzi says. "You need to revamp your diet and lifestyle before the cold and flu bugs get to you. Most people need at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day to get adequate vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants - all things we need for a healthy immune system."
The department recommends at least one fruit or vegetable in almost every color of the rainbow a day.
(No, a bag of Skittles doesn't count.)
Here's a rundown of the colorful spectrum of food recommended to best fight the flu, the benefits of each color and something tasty to try in each category.
Red: Red fruits and veggies contain two powerful antioxidants, vitamins A and C, which can help boost your immune system. Also, fiery-hued fruits and veggies are known to lower bad cholesterol and reduce the risk of some cancers. The Missouri Department of Health recommends spaghetti sauce as your daily source of red fruits and veggies.
Orange: This category may be a no-brainer (because, um, vitamin-C rich oranges), but don't forget the benefits of pumpkin, carrots and peaches. Orange fruits and veggies have antioxidants, fiber and phytonutrients to help boost your ability to fight nasty bugs. Beta-carotene, which gives these foods their hue, is a very powerful antioxidant.
Gut Check recommends: the spicy carrots with citrus and harissa at Olio (1634 Tower Grove Avenue; 314-932-1088).
Green: Popeye knew what he was doing: Green veggies such as spinach contain vitamins galore, including B vitamins and vitamins C,E and K.
Gut Check recommends: the shaved kale salad at Pastaria (7734 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton; 314-862-6603).
Blue and Purple: These foods get their pigments from anthocyanins, a natural antioxidant shown to reduce the risk of certain cancers and promote heart health.
Gut Check recommends: the imam bayildi (baked eggplant) at Aya Sofia (6671 Chippewa Street; 314-645-9919).
And if you're still snacking on that box of chocolates from Valentine's Day, no need to stop. Chocolates, especially dark varieties, contain antioxidants and help boost heart health.