Cold and flu season is officially upon us.  This can be a rough time for many; especially for those of us with kids it can seem as though someone is always sick.  In fact, children under six years average six to eight colds per year (up to one per month, September through April), with symptoms lasting an average of 14 days.  So in order to avoid an entire season of illness we need all the help we can get!

Here are my top 7 ways to naturally prevent and treat colds and flu this season:

1-Get Rest    Getting adequate sleep is top of the list.  Poor sleep quality and quantity can raise inflammation in our bodies and can weaken immunity, thereby increasing our susceptibility to infection.  While it tends to be easier to rest more once we are already sick, think of getting adequate sleep as a good tool for prevention. (If you have a new baby, make sure to learn about safe co-sleeping, and *wink wink* feel free to check in about getting some Postpartum Doula visits so you can nap!)

2-Wash Your Hands     This may seem pretty basic, but hand washing is actually one of the best things we can do to help prevent the spread of germs.  Simply wash hands with soap and water regularly as a way to protect yourself this cold and flu season.

3-Load up on immune supporting vitamins and minerals
Vitamin C rich foods include oranges, kale, kiwi and red bell peppers. These foods contain antioxidants, fibre and also provide hydration for the body.
Vitamin D rich foods or a high quality vitamin D supplement are important for maintaining a strong immune system.  Consuming our vitamin D orally is especially important during the winter months when we are not exposed to as much Vitamin D making sunlight. Dietary sources include mushrooms and oily fish such as salmon. Zinc is an immune boosting nutrient that can be taken as a supplement or through zinc-rich foods.  While oysters have the highest amount of zinc, they are not exactly the most popular food item.  Meat, lentils and pumpkin seeds also contain some zinc.

4- Consume a probiotic or probiotic rich foods      These can help to enhance our immunity and ward off colds and flus but can also be a powerful adjunct to take if you do need a dose of antibiotics for a bacterial infection.  Antibiotics kill a lot of our good bacteria, so adding a probiotic to your antibiotic regimen will help replenish these lost good guys.
Probiotic rich foods include raw sauerkraut, pickled vegetables and fermented dairy.  Extra tip: It is important to feed these probiotic bacteria with healthy foods high in fibre.

5-Stay hydrated      Water helps all your body’s systems function at optimal levels, including your immune system.  In addition to just plain water, try consuming more broth and water based soups, decaffeinated teas and hydrating fruits and vegetables.

6- Include herbs and spices in your meals       Ginger has anti viral and anti bacterial properties and has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body.  It also has a warming effect, which many find comforting when sick.  Garlic can help enhance immune cell function, reducing the severity of a cold or flu.  Both garlic and ginger can be added in whole form to add flavour to foods.  Turmeric is another spice that has become more popular lately as people come around to its host of purported anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial benefits.  While research is still preliminary, anecdotal evidence and population studies, where a large percentage of people use turmeric, give us optimistic results.  Beyond that, the risks (when consumed in small doses) are quite low.  Turmeric can be added to dishes when cooking or to beverages (such as my immune boosting super smoothie below).  One thing to note: the bio-availability of turmeric is quite poor, however two things help increase its absorption and allow you to access all of its benefits: black pepper and fat (so try cooking with both spices or add a little fat to whichever turmeric spiced meal or beverage you make.)

7- Raw Honey  – Honey can be helpful in boosting the immune system and has antioxidant and antiviral properties. Honey can also be used as an effective cough suppressant.  However, while a tbsp. or two of raw honey can be effective, you want to avoid processed sugar and carbs, which suppress immune function. You also don’t want to give honey to any child under the age of one.

As a disclaimer, please note that some supplements, herbs and spices may be contraindicated in pregnancy or while nursing.  If unsure, check with your health care provider or Lactation Consultant.  This is why I generally recommend whole foods versus supplementation, such as foods rich in vitamin C and a whole garlic clove or piece of ginger versus a concentrated, powdered form.  Most side effects from the herbs and spices listed above come not from using them in a culinary capacity but from their supplemental, more concentrated doses.

Immune Boosting Super Smoothie (Serves 1)
Juice from one orange
1 Kiwi
1 tbsp Coconut oil
1 Clove of Garlic
1 tbsp of Grated Fresh Ginger or ¼ tsp of Powdered Ginger
¼ tsp of Turmeric
1 Cup of Water
1 tbsp of Raw Honey
Handful of Ice (optional; makes for a creamier smoothie)

Blend all ingredients together and serve immediately.

Allison Martineau is a Birth and Postpartum Doula with Nutmeg Consulting. She is also a Pediatric Nutritionist specializing in Prenatal & Postpartum nutrition, and childhood obesity prevention and treatment. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences from Western University and a Master’s degree in Nutrition and Public Health from Columbia University. For more information please contact