Protect Your Immune System: Eat Right and Reduce Stress

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tere-jones-author-101613It’s that time again, flu season. Are you ready to beat the cold and flu season? This is the time of year that our Emergency Department braces itself to see lots of families with children battling seasonal illnesses. Many times, we see families where one child is sick one week, and another child is sick the next, as family members pass their illnesses back and forth. It makes me realize, each year, the importance of keeping the entire family healthy. Here are some helpful tips you can use now and all year round.

What is the Immune System?

The immune system is the complex system in the body made up of organs, glands and cells that act together as a team to fight off and kill any foreign invaders in the body. These invaders may be bacteria, viruses or even cancer cells. Viruses and bacteria enter your body through your nose, mouth or even a cut in the skin. This can happen when someone near you coughs or you touch these places with your hands before they are washed properly. If your immune system is not strong enough to fight the germs off when they get there, they can make you feel sick.

Protecting Your Immune System

The Importance of Proper Hand Washing

Washing your hands is one of the most important steps you can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Many illnesses are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. You can learn more about how and why washing your hands helps prevent illnesses on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website at http://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/.

This is a helpful video showing all the steps to proper hand washing!

Beware of Excess Sugar and Hidden Sugar Sources

If you can only do one thing to help keep you and your family healthy, my recommendation is to avoid excess sugar in your diet. Excess sugar can weaken the immune system and make it hard for your body to fight off illness. Holiday season brings an extra dose of sugar to our tables right when we most need to avoid it.

There are obvious sources of sugar like holiday candy, desserts and sugary drinks. I also want to share some hidden sources of sugar that you may not have thought about:

  • Peanut butter, especially ones that are labeled “For Kids.”
  • Salad dressing, especially low fat dressings.
  • Fruit juices with added sugar.

Don’t forget to check the ingredients and nutritional value to see how much sugar is in the food or drink items you buy. To get a visual idea of how much sugar is in the foods you eat, I recommend visiting sugarstacks.com, which I also recommended in my post about high fructose corn syrup.

The Role of Vegetables

If your kids love their vegetables, you are in luck. Add a few more servings into their diet and provide a variety of different colored vegetables for them. Each variety of color means different nutrients that help you stay healthy! If your kids dislike vegetables, here are a few a ways to add them in their diet. Your kids may not even notice!

The “Adding Vegetables to Meat” Trick

  1. Cook some vegetables.
  2. Chop the cooked vegetables up into small pieces.
  3. Mix them into ground beef, turkey or chicken.
  4. Use your new “blend” to make hamburgers or a meatloaf.

The “Adding Vegetables to Pasta Sauce” Trick

  1. Cook some vegetables.
  2. Blend them together in a blender or hand mixer.
  3. Add to your spaghetti or pasta sauce.
  4. Pour the sauce over your family’s favorite pasta or noodles and enjoy!

How to Reduce Your Stress

Stress and upset in your life or your family’s life can weaken your immune system and make it hard for your body to fight off infections. We all know that the holidays can be a stressful time of year.

Research continues to show us that laughter and pleasant, fun music as well as light physical exercise and fun activities can have a positive effect on your immune system. Here are a few suggestions that could help you and your family laugh together and reduce stress:

  • Read a funny book daily.
  • Watch a funny movie.
  • Sing some fun songs together, or listen to some fun music.
  • Take a walk together outside, putting your attention on the nature around you.
  • Play a game of catch, football, baseball or tag in your yard or local park.
  • Build a fire together in the fireplace when it’s cold outside.
  • Share with us what activities you do together that help you lessen your family’s stress.

Have a happy and healthy season!