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Eat right to sail through cold and flu season unscathed

Jessica Padykula is a freelance writer and editor in Toronto, Canada covering a wide range of  topics for several online lifestyle publications. She is a regular contributor for SheKnows, covering travel, style, relationships, health and...

Have a healthier winter

Like it or not, cold and flu season is here. It seems as if someone is always sniffling, sneezing and otherwise under the weather. So how do we minimize our chances of getting sick? It's easier than you think. With a little foresight and a few tweaks to what you eat (and don't eat), you can help prevent colds and flu in your household.

Surviving Flu season

Have a healthier winter

Like it or not, cold and flu season is here. It seems as if someone is always sniffling, sneezing and otherwise under the weather. So how do we minimize our chances of getting sick? It's easier than you think. With a little foresight and a few tweaks to what you eat (and don't eat), you can help prevent colds and flu in your household.

For some serious cold- and flu-busting tips, we turned to celebrity nutritionist Haylie Pomroy. She shares her best advice for staying healthy all season.

Foods to avoid

When it comes to fighting off the many cold and flu bugs floating around your home and office (and generally everywhere else you go right now), prevention isn't just about what you do eat. There are a few things to avoid when you feel like you might be getting sick or to avoid catching your husband's or kids' colds altogether.

The first culprit: sugar. "People get sick right after Halloween because we eat so much sugar," Pomroy says. "Sugar cuts the immune system and puts you at risk for getting sick. It suppresses immune response in blood," she explains.

Next on the no-go list is dairy. The type of protein in dairy products suppresses immune response in your GI tract (gut), Pomroy says. If you feel like you might be at risk of getting sick — you'll be in an airplane, around kids or near other people who are sick — she suggests cutting out dairy as a preventive measure.

Foods to stock up on

Quick tip: Pomroy makes a garlic/sweet potato mash for an easy cold-fighting side dish.

Fighting a cold or flu (or avoiding them in the first place) comes down to eating foods that offer the most nutritional bang for their buck. Lucky for us, a lot of them are in season. "A lot of things that grow this time of year are actually very immune-boosting," Pomroy says. Think root vegetables, pomegranates, persimmons, squash and dark leafy greens. "This time of year we also see a lot of nuts and seeds in season and they are very antiviral."

Get the recipe for butternut squash soup with carrots and potatoes >>

Persimmons in particular, along with Asian pears and pomegranates, are all good when you have a recurring cough, Pomroy notes. You should also stock up on foods that are rich in vitamin C, as well as garlic, which is antiviral.

Cold- and flu-fighting meals

While you might think any way to get those cold- and flu-fighting vegetables is fine, Pomroy advises cooking them rather than eating them raw. "This time of year, it's important to do cooked versus raw in veggies," she says. "This helps to keep (your) body's core temperature warm. When that temperature drops, that's when viruses and bacteria can get in." Work those vegetables into soups, stews and chili.

Make a note: If you're sipping herbal tea to stay hydrated, some are actually dehydrating (dandelion, for example). Stick to hydrating herbal teas, which include raspberry, pomegranate and chamomile.

Cold and flu: Mistakes to avoid

Pomroy says the biggest mistake people make when it comes to warding off colds and the flu is letting themselves get dehydrated. "So many people drink water when it's hot [outside] and forget to in the winter," she says.

So how much should we be sipping? No matter the season, you should be drinking half your body weight in ounces per day, Pomroy says. She also advises warm or room-temperature water to keep your core warm.

Another mistake Pomroy notes is continuing to eat like you're on holiday long after Thanksgiving and Christmas are over. "Celebrate the heck out of any holiday you celebrate on that day, but just on the day," she advises. Continuing to eat those sugary treats every day can suppress your immune system.

Easy — and healthy — meal prep ideas

Some people find it hard to eat healthy in the winter because produce can be a little lackluster and more expensive. Pomroy suggests sticking to what's in season (root vegetables, squash, etc.) and using them in comforting yet healthy preparations. She's a big fan of her slow cooker, which makes healthy meal prep easy, especially when you make large batches to freeze for quick meals through the week. "There are a lot of things you can make that keep your immune system boosted and are healthy," Pomroy says. "Don't deny your comfort-food cravings, just make it from scratch and use whole, fresh ingredients." Using alternative grains (quinoa and buckwheat, for example) also helps keep things interesting.

Get the recipe for slow cooker chicken quinoa soup >>

More cold- and flu-fighting tips

How to treat tummy troubles
How the flu can hurt your heart health
Eat right to avoid the cold and flu

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