Eat well, but don't starve a cold or fever

(As featured in The Telegram on Monday, September 26th 2011)

It's an old wives tale- feed a cold, starve a fever. There are many myths and misinformation when
it comes to nutrition, our immune systems, and cold and flu prevention. Including recently the ever
popular notion that more is always better. One thing for certain is that 80% of our immune system lies
within our stomach and intestines, and that good eating choices really do make a difference. With
colder weather approaching and sick season down the road it's a good time to talk about eating to
prevent illness.

First and foremost if you remember one thing it should be food first, supplements second. It's always
best to get nutrients from food as opposed to dietary supplements, and for several reasons. There are
many healthful vitamins, minerals and other good for you factors in foods not found in supplements.
Take an orange and vitamin C tablet as an example. We all know that both are high in vitamin C,
however the orange also has other nutrients such as B vitamins, minerals, fiber and whole load of
antioxidants which all can help to play a role in health and immunity as well. The other reason foods
are usually better than taking a supplement is that the amount of vitamins and minerals found in a food
is likely a dose that will not be in excess. Unknown to many, and quie similar to medications, vitamins
and minerals have optimal doses too, and when in supplements can sometimes interact with other pills
if not taken under the direction of a professional. Some swear by taking large doses of vitamin C, zinc
or selenium as a cold and flu prevention tactic. Truth be told, if you take vitamin C as a supplement
it will not prevent a cold. It is actually one of the vitamins that when consumed in excess we will
pee it out. For the other minerals including zinc and selenium, the majority of people eat enough to
meet their need. It's a misconception that consuming extra of these through a supplement will help to
prevent a viral sickness. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and seafood is the best
way to get enough of these above nutrients and others as well for health and prevention. Supplements
can have their place for specific situations, but too frequently they are eaten like candy, unknowingly
and freely when healthful foods could be in their place.

Other myths for cold and flu prevention include things like eating too much sugar, or (yikes!) not
eating at all. Eating too much sugar does not suppress your immune system. It can however replace
other nutrient rich foods in your diet which may not aid your mission in avoiding illness during high
season. An old wives tale of 'starving a fever' is also not a good idea. This actually does more harm
than good. When we don't eat we simply don't get the nutrients needed to aid our bodies in getting
better.

The bottom line is simply this- being healthy and preventing seasonal illness doesn't require
complicated diet. Food over supplements is certainly the best choice, not to mention easier and
cheaper. It's all about planning a well balanced diet with variety alongside Eating Well with Canada's
Food Guide servings and suggested choices.