Keep Your Immune System Strong This Fall – Agweek

“Oh, no,” I thought to myself.

I woke up with a stuffy nose and a headache.

Julie GardenRobinson

Courtesy/NDSU Extension Service

I’ve been on a lot of air travel lately. I heard people in the airport coughing and sneezing. Some people looked like they should be in a hospital.

Did the lurking germs they expelled find their way to me? Did I catch a cold, the flu, or something worse along the way?

With all the isolation and social distancing of the past two years, I haven’t had a cold or the flu in a long time. I had my annual flu shot later that week as a precaution.

We had turned on our furnace and the dry air probably caused my problems. I felt better after drinking a hot cup of tea. To be on the safe side, I took it easy that day, drank lots of hot drinks, and let my immune system do its job.

Most of us catch a cold or the flu occasionally. What’s the difference, anyway? I visited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for clarification.

The flu is caused by influenza viruses, while the common cold can be caused by rhinoviruses, parainfluenza, and seasonal coronaviruses. COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2, and this disease is different from the common cold or the flu.

The common cold and flu share some symptoms such as tiredness, sneezing, coughing, stuffy nose and sore throat, but the symptoms can be variable. See for more information.

Catching the flu is more serious than catching a cold. Flu symptoms often include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headache, and sometimes vomiting and/or diarrhea.

The flu can lead to inflammation of the heart, brain and muscles. Serious bacterial infections, such as pneumonia, can occur after having the flu.

Specific tests are needed to determine if you have the flu or COVID-19.

Fortunately, for us, our body has a variety of disease-fighting cells and organs, including our spleen and bone marrow. Keep your immune system strong by following these tips.

  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. Handwashing is considered the most important way to prevent the spread of infections. If you are not near a sink, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer as directed.
  • If you have a cold, be sure to cover your cough with your arm, not your hands. Better yet, stay home when you’re sick and recover.
  • Eat a healthy diet full of colorful fruits and vegetables with lean protein, healthy fats, low-fat dairy, and whole grains to round out your plate. Drink lots of water too.
  • Be active at least five days a week, aiming for at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day.
  • Get plenty of rest. In general, people need seven to eight hours of sleep per night.

Search online for “NDSU Extension Nourish Your Immune System” for some of the specific nutrients your body needs to defend itself. Protein, vitamin D and antioxidants are some of the essential nutrients.

Soup is a great fall food to enjoy. A steaming bowl of soup can help fight respiratory illnesses. This step-by-step recipe from our “Pinchin’ Pennies in the Kitchen” series lets you use what you have on hand to create a custom soup.

1. Choose a fat.

  • 2 tablespoons canola, sunflower, olive, vegetable (soy) or other oil
  • Heat in a large saucepan on the stove.

2. Rinse and chop a medium onion.

  • Add to pot and cook over medium heat until tender.

3. Choose a broth. Add to pot.

  • 2 cans (16 ounces) chicken, beef or vegetable broth
  • 4 cups water plus chicken, beef or vegetable broth or soup base prepared according to manufacturer’s instructions
  • 1 can (16 ounces) crushed or diced tomatoes and 3 cups water
  • 4 cups milk and chicken broth or soup base prepared according to manufacturer’s instructions

4. Choose a protein. Add to pot.

  • 1 pound cooked (or leftover) ground/diced beef, chicken, ham, lean sausage, firm tofu, etc.
  • 1 can (16 ounces) beef, chicken, ham
  • 1 can (16 ounces) beans (pinto, kidney, navy, black, etc.), drained and rinsed

5. Choose a starch. Add to pot.

  • 3 to 4 cups diced potatoes
  • 4 ounces egg noodles, macaroni, pasta (or 1½ cups leftover cooked noodles)
  • ½ cup uncooked rice (or 1½ cup leftover cooked rice)

6. Choose a mix of 2-3 cups of chopped vegetables (fresh, frozen or canned). Add to pot.
7. Choose one or more seasonings, add them to the pan and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

  • 1-2 teaspoons dried herbs (oregano, basil, cumin, chili powder, thyme, rosemary, parsley, etc.)
  • Bay leaf (remove before serving)
  • Chopped garlic
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons fresh herbs (add five minutes before serving)

The nutritional content will vary depending on the ingredients used.
Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., RD, LRD, is a food and nutrition specialist at North Dakota State University Extension and a professor in the Department of Health Sciences, nutrition and exercise. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson.

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