Alexis Penney uses food, nutrition and lifestyle to keep healthy, happy and out of the hospital.
The founder of Shanti Nutrition knows what she’s talking about. She is also a Registered Dietician and Licensed Nutritionist, and she has worked at some of Boston’s top hospitals including Beth Israel Deaconess and St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center.
Although Penney believes in an individualized approach to wellness, her foundational knowledge of food and nutrition is something anyone can follow to stave off colds and other infections during the winter months.
Penney tells Exhale that there are many studies “showing the deficiency of vitamin C can result in impaired immunity and higher susceptibility to infection.” To prevent this type of deficiency, Penney says to make sure your diet includes sources of Vitamin C such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, bell peppers and leafy greens like spinach and kale.
“Try adding bell peppers or dark leafy greens to your pasta dishes or omelettes,” she says. “Or have roasted Brussels sprouts as a side dish.”
Scientific studies have also linked zinc to the body’s immune system. “It has been shown to prevent the onset of colds and flu and can decrease the duration of your cold by a day or more if taken when your symptoms start,” says Penney.
Major sources of zinc include oysters, chicken, chickpeas, black beans, pumpkin seeds, cashews, almonds, spinach, salmon and asparagus. Penney says the recommended daily intake for zinc is 15/mg per day and suggests adding chickpeas or black beans to your salads or having cashews and almonds as a mid-afternoon snack.
To ensure you’re getting the most nutrients out of daily food intake, Penney says buying frozen veggies is ideal. “They’re picked at the peak of ripeness and immediately frozen so all the nutrients are locked in,” she says. “Get the plain, skip the ones with a ton of sauce, and add your own spices!”
Penney recommends boosting your immunity directly from food sources first but “if you’re truly unable to get enough from your food, supplementing [with zinc or vitamin C tablets] during the cold and flu season is not a bad idea.”
Most importantly, she says, in order to prevent or quickly get over a cold or flu, “we cannot forget sleep, self-care, stress-management and exercise. These are all very important factors in keeping our immunity high, and they reduce our chances of coming down with a cold.”