Updated 16 January 2017

Coughs and sniffles

Winter is the time for colds and flu’s, to fend off any nasty bugs and viruses, you need to eat your recommended daily servings of five vegetables and fruits this season.

"Prevention is better than cure", says Leigh-Ann Silber, registered dietitian and trustee on the 5-a-Day for Better Health TRUST. Winter is the time for colds and flu’s, which cause all sorts of discomfort and absenteeism and the best way to ensure that your body is healthy and able to fend off any nasty bugs and viruses, you need to eat your recommended daily servings of five vegetables and fruits this season. In the United States more doctors’ visits are due to a cold than any other condition.

Cold or flu

It would seem that many of us use the words cold and flu interchangeably when in fact they are very different. A cold is a minor infection of the nose and throat caused by several different viruses that generally lasts about one week, although some colds last longer, especially in children, elderly people, and those in poor health. Colds are highly contagious and are transferred specifically by touch but can also be transmitted by inhalation.

On the other hand there are three types of influenza or flu viruses - A, B and C. Types A and B being the most severe. Unfortunately these viruses change constantly and different strains circulate globally. The body's natural defences cannot keep up with these changes and hence it is important to get a flu vaccination every year as it is specifically designed to work against the current circulating virus. Compared to colds, flu symptoms are more severe and strike more abruptly and generally include a fever and the body and muscles ache.

Although the best way to reduce the risk of catching a cold is to practice good hygiene especially over the winter months (avoid touching stair rails and wash your hands after contact with cold sufferers and objects or surfaces they may have contaminated) also take note of what you eat during this time. 

Nutrient density

"A new concept in nutrition and health is 'nutrient density', which is the ratio of the total nutrient content to the total energy content of the food. There is no doubt that vegetables and fruit are the most nutrient dense foods, which give you as many nutrients as possible for the least amount of kilojoules – they are packed with goodness such as vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and no doubt other health giving substances yet to be discovered," says Silber.

The more colours the better

Silber explains that, "Scientists are uncovering that apart from the vitamins, minerals and fibre found in vegetables and fruit, their goodness comes from the pigments that give them their colour, with each offering something unique. It is the combination of all this goodness that helps the body fight disease and promotes good health. That is why to harness all the health benefits of vegetables and fruit, it is important to eat the 5-a-Day way, which includes a variety of colourful (orange, red, green, white, and blue) fruits and vegetables every day - the more colours the better.

"So an apple, an orange, a berry smoothie, some broccoli and salad a day might indeed help to keep the coughs and sniffles at bay," conclude Silber.

(Press release, 5-a-day for Better Health TRUST)


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Professor Keertan Dheda has received several prestigious awards including the 2014 Oppenheimer Award, and has published over 160 peer-reviewed papers and holds 3 patents related to new TB diagnostic or infection control technologies. He serves on the editorial board of the journals PLoS One, the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Medicine, Lancet Respiratory Diseases and Nature Scientific Reports, amongst others. Read his full biography at the University of Cape Town Lung Institute.

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