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Focus on a healthy diet this cold and flu season

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A registered dietitian offers tips on how to support a healthy immune system to help your family escape winter unscathed

There are many tips on how to avoid cold and flu season: Wash your hands. Get a flu shot. Stop touching your face.

This season, add what’s on your plate to the list.

“Maintaining a healthy diet is important to help keep your immune system in top shape,” said Gail Rampersaud, a registered dietitian nutritionist. “The immune system has many moving parts that require a wide variety of nutrients to work effectively. Consuming a diet rich in nutrient-dense food is essential to support the immune system during cold and flu season, and all year long.”

For advice on what to eat, Rampersaud suggests turning to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommends consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy as well as a variety of protein, such as seafood, lean meats, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Seem overwhelming? Try to focus on one area at a time, Rampersaud said.

For example, the Dietary Guidelines name vitamin C as an under-consumed nutrient, meaning that many people are not getting enough of this key immune system-supporting nutrient.

A simple fix: Drink a glass of Florida Orange Juice. An 8-ounce serving provides more than 100 percent of the recommended Daily Value of vitamin C and also delivers other key nutrients such as potassium, folate and thiamin.

Another area to focus on might be the amount of added sugar you consume, Rampersaud said.

“The Dietary Guidelines recommend cutting back on added sugar, especially sugar-sweetened beverages, where most added sugars reside,” Rampersaud said. “Make your beverage choices work harder for you by replacing carbonated added-sugar beverages with ones that will give you more nutrients, such as 100 percent fruit juice or low-fat milk.”

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About Gail Rampersaud, MS, RDN

Ms. Rampersaud has a master’s degree in nutrition and dietetics from the University of Florida. She is a registered dietitian nutritionist for the Florida Department of Citrus and member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.