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Diet can give your immune system the advantage

You have several ways to help your immune system resist colds and flu this season

Some research indicates that warm, steaming broth may help clear congestion, and the protein and veggies in chicken soup may help your body repair itself.

Recently, I was on six flights during the course of five days, with about 250 people per flight. Every flight had several people who were sneezing or coughing.

So, I was exposed to at least 1,500 people all nestled in a pressurized tube, breathing the same recycled air.

Now I wait to see if my immune system was able to fight germs efficiently during this cold and flu season.

On one flight, my neighbour was coughing and sneezing on me, in between snoring loudly. You can hold your breath only so long. I wedged myself up to the plane’s window. I had no exit, and I never have used a parachute, anyway.

I felt as though I was on one of those TV commercials surrounded by green fog emitted by sick people. Most of us have heard the reports about this year’s flu season that has resulted in numerous deaths.

According to medical experts, people with the flu can spread the virus droplets six feet away through coughing and sneezing. The droplets can land in our noses or mouths, or be inhaled into our lungs.

You can spread illness a day before you have symptoms and about a week after you become sick. Sometimes people are infected and they don’t have the flu symptoms.

Now that I am home, I am waiting to see if my immune system was wearing its boxing gloves and fighting germs. I had a flu shot and now it was being tested.

Having a cold is different from having the flu. People with the flu may have a fever (often with chills), cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headache and fatigue. Children with the flu also might have vomiting and diarrhea.

For some people, especially adults 65 and older, pregnant women and children under the age of five, getting the flu can be life threatening. People with diabetes, kidney disorders, lung diseases, asthma and several other chronic diseases also are at high risk for serious consequences. Pneumonia, bronchitis and sinus or ear infections might follow a bout with the flu.

No one enjoys feeling under the weather, so what can you do to help prevent colds and the flu? Try these tips to help your immune system resist colds and flu:

  • Have a flu shot every year.
  • Be sure to wash your hands regularly. Lather up for at least 20 seconds. Consider using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when a sink is not nearby. The sanitizer should contain at least 60 per cent alcohol. You can use a hand sanitizer if handwashing facilities are not readily available, but be sure to use enough hand sanitizer and rub your hands until the alcohol evaporates.
  • Stay home when you are sick to help prevent others from being exposed. Create a “sick room” in your house, and be sure to practise good hygiene, and wash dishware/glasses with hot, soapy water.
  • Be sure to cover your coughs and sneezes. Use a tissue to “catch your sneeze” or you can sneeze or cough into your elbow instead of your hands. Toss the tissue so others do not have to dispose of it for you, and then wash your hands as a precaution.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are ill.
  • Stay home for at least 24 hours after a fever is gone.
  • Stay well nourished every day with a varied, nutritious diet.
  • Get regular physical activity. Aim for 30 minutes per day on most days of the week.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Check out the immune system resources at

Try some chicken soup. Some research has shown that warm, steaming broth may help clear congestion, and a mix of protein and vegetables in chicken soup may help your body repair itself.

This homemade chicken soup recipe is courtesy of the “Spend Smart Eat Smart” program from Iowa State University Extension. According to its analysis, a serving costs just 60 cents and is lower in sodium than commercial canned soups.

Our favourite chicken noodle soup

  • 2 chicken leg quarters
  • 6 c. water
  • 1/2 c. chopped celery (about 1 rib)
  • 1/2 c. chopped onion
  • 2 c. sliced carrots (about 4 carrots)
  • 1 tbsp. dried parsley
  • 1 tbsp. Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 c. (2-1/2 ounces) whole grain wide egg noodles

Place chicken and water in a stockpot. Bring water to a simmer (slow boil). Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until chicken reaches 165 F. Clean and chop vegetables while chicken is cooking. Take the chicken out of water with tongs or fork, then cool in refrigerator about five or 10 minutes. Add vegetables and parsley, Italian seasoning, pepper and salt to the pot of hot water. Remove bones and skin from chicken and discard when it is cool enough to handle. Cut meat into bite-sized pieces and add to the pot of hot water. Bring to a boil. Add noodles when water is boiling. Cook according to package directions.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 280 calories, 4.5 grams (g) fat, 27 g protein, 32 g carbohydrate, 5 g fibre and 350 milligrams sodium.

About the author


Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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