Because we’ve all been pretty preoccupied with the COVID-19 pandemic over these last nine or so months, flu season has kind of snuck up on us. But that doesn’t mean we’re taking it any less seriously. On the contrary, now more than ever we’re prioritizing our health and doing everything in our power to stay healthy and safe. Case in point: These simple yet effective ways to prepare for flu season.
How to Prepare for Flu Season, Because We All Have Bigger Things to Worry About Right Now
1. Get a Flu Shot
If you haven’t gotten yours yet, it’s time, folks. According to Dr. Jeff Goad, Chapman University’s pharmacy department chair and founding member of the Pharmacists Professional Group Section of the International Society of Travel Medicine, the flu is a respiratory illness that will make you more susceptible to others, like coronavirus. Getting a flu shot has never been easier—we walked into our local CVS and were in and out in less than 15 minutes. Also, don’t buy into the marketing of non-FDA regulated vitamins and supplements that claim they can boost your immune system when there’s no research out there that actually supports this. To add more immune-supporting vitamin C to your system, order an orange juice and hold the Champagne.
2. Wash Everything…a Lot
Yes, obviously that means your hands—remember to scrub for 20 seconds or as long as it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice—but also your desk, your keyboard, your iPhone… It might feel like overkill to bust out the Lysol daily, but you’d be surprised (and grossed out) at the number of germs that live on commonly used surfaces (including money—ew).
3. Wear a Mask
Per the CDC, “Masks are recommended as a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people when the person wearing the mask coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice. This is called source control.” Wearing masks, whether you’re sick or not has been a proven tactic for lowering infection rates. You should still be wearing a mask for COVID-preventing purposes, but it can also help you avoid coming into contact with the flu.
4. Prioritize Sleep
Skipping out on sleep not only wreaks havoc on your immune system, but it also makes it harder to fight off a virus once you’ve got it. Per a study at the University of Tübingen in Germany, sleep and the circadian system are strong regulators of immunological processes. Basically, prolonged sleep deficiency leads to the production of cells that cause increased immunodeficiency. To rest and recharge, Dr. Stokes recommends going to bed at the same time every night (ideally by 10 p.m.) and sleeping for at least seven to eight hours. Get the lavender essential oil out, folks!
5. Stock Up on Flu-Fighting Foods
We’re pretty much willing to try anything to avoid getting sick, so we checked in with Dr. Michelle Davenport, the co-founder of Raised Real and an RD with a PhD in nutrition, to learn about what we should be eating to fight the flu. Here’s what she recommends.
Remember when, circa 2015, kale was the thing? It may have lost some of its superstar status in the food world, but it’s still extremely good for you. Brassica vegetables like kale (and broccoli) are nutritional heavy hitters, packing in vitamins C and E. To aid in absorption, pair these with healthy fats like avocado or olive oil. In addition to vitamin C’s immune-boosting powers, a study at Tufts University found that vitamin E is associated with both enhanced resistance to influenza and reduced risk of acquiring upper respiratory infections in older adults.
This delicious fish is one of the few food sources that’s naturally high in vitamin D3. The best way to absorb this nutritional heavy hitter is from the sun, but adequate sunlight isn't always available during the winter. (Womp-womp.) A Queen Mary University of London study showed that vitamin D may protect from respiratory infections and the flu—an excellent reason to keep eating the catch of the day (as long as it’s salmon) straight through winter.
Sure, it’ll make your breath stink for a little while, but when you consider the health benefits, garlic is more than worth it. Garlic helps the body absorb iron and zinc, important nutrients for building immunity. Even more than that, a clinical trial at the University of Florida showed that aged garlic may enhance immune cell function and may reduce the severity of colds and the flu. Pungent breath be damned—it’s for your health.
There’s a reason ginger is in almost every single one of those super-healthy juices you want to buy but never really do. It’s a well-known immunity-building food. Per a study from India’s Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences, compounds in ginger inhibit the protein in the influenza virus that causes infection. For an easy boost, cut a slice and throw it into your water bottle; with slightly more effort, you can recreate this delicious Japanese-inspired dressing.
In addition to adding a really pretty, rich color to any dish it’s a part of, turmeric is, like, next-level good for you. Per a study at Nanjing Medical University in China, curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, relieves inflammation by blocking inflammatory pathways caused by the influenza virus. To increase the power of curcumin, Dr. Davenport suggests pairing it with black pepper. Trendy and flu-fighting? Pretty damn perfect.
4 More Ways to Boost Your Immune System
1. Eat More Garlic
No, it won’t do much for your breath, but, according to a study from Jagiellonian University in Poland, garlic is an antimicrobial agent and immune booster. One thing to keep in mind is that heat deactivates its immune supporting powers, so if you’re cooking with it, add it in just before serving or try it in a cold salad dressing to kick your veggies up.
2. Spend Some Time in the Sun
We typically associate spending time in the sun with summer, but it’s actually really important (and beneficial) to take in some rays when it’s cold out. In addition to boosting your mood, the sun can also support immune health. So says a study at Georgetown University, which found that exposure to sunlight can energize T cells that play a central role in human immunity.
3. Avoid Processed Foods
We know we should limit processed foods in general, but it’s especially important when we’re extra concerned about our immune systems. “Processed foods lack nourishment and can take the place of nourishing foods that would support the immune system,” says Dr. Joan Ifland Ph.D., Nutrition Counselor and Founder of Food Addiction Reset. She’s realistic, though, that most people will slip up from time to time and indulge in, say, a doughnut. “If this happens once or twice in a long while, it's not a big deal,” she admits. “But when it happens frequently and the immune system is habitually deprived of nutrients, then the immune system cannot function to fight off viruses. When this happens, instead of having a mild case of the flu where symptoms are contained by your vigorous immune system, you could end up in the hospital because the virus has overwhelmed a weak immune system. When a powerful virus like coronavirus is on the loose, we all want our immune systems to be in top condition.”
4. Take Care of Your Gut
Gut health is all the rage right now, with increasing evidence linking your microbiome to brain health, emotional health, cardiovascular health and more. Your microbiome is also linked to your immune system, and Dr. McClain recommends paying close attention to the amount of fiber you're eating. “Keeping fiber in the diet helps not only maintain healthy bowel habits, it can help keep the flora of the bowels (aka the microbiome) healthy, promoting the growth of ‘good’ bacteria that support the immune system,” he says. “Good bacteria in the bowels not only help the immune system through promotion of general health, but the good bacteria directly affect the growth of ‘bad’ bacteria.” Here are some foods to avoid if you’re looking to improve your gut health.