kris ulland

Your Nutrition Partner

“There’s still no cure for the common cold or flu,” says Bruce Barrett, professor of family medicine and community health at the University of Wisconsin. Even so, there are some tricks to avoid the bugs going around or lessen the impact if one catches you.

Cold and flu viruses grow in the nose and throat. They are spread when someone sneezes or coughs on or near you or you touch a contaminated surface and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth.

Cold viruses have been shown to survive on indoor surfaces for approximately seven days. Flu viruses, however, are active for only 24 hours. All viruses have the potential to live on hard surfaces, such as metal and plastic, longer than on fabrics and other soft surfaces. Infectious flu viruses can survive on tissues for only 15 minutes. Viruses tend to also live longer in areas with lower temperatures, low humidity, and low sunlight.

How long these germs are actually capable of infecting you is a different story. In general, viruses are not likely to be a danger on surfaces very long. In fact, while cold viruses can live for several days, their ability to cause infection decreases after approximately 24 hours, and after only five minutes, the amount of flu virus on hands fall to low levels, making transmission much less likely.

Our immune system’s response to the virus is what makes us miserable. The mucus, the coughing and sneezing, are all part of the process of our bodies trying to clear the virus.

It is hard to avoid people when they are sick. No one stays home when they are sick. They go to work, they travel, and they spread their germs. Of course, the best way to avoid getting sick is to avoid sick people but, short of that, there are a couple of other steps you can take.

Washing your hands is like a “do-it-yourself vaccine”, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They suggest five steps: wet, lather, scrub (for about 20 seconds) with the tap off, rinse, and dry. Twenty seconds is how long it takes to sign “Happy Birthday” twice.

Skip the antibacterial soaps. The Food and Drug Administration says that they are no more effective than regular soap and using them leads to resistant bacteria.

When people are exposed to a cold or flu virus, only some will get infected and only some of them will get symptoms. Research indicated that whether or not you actually get the cold or flu will depend on your stress level, if you exercise regularly, and if you are getting enough sleep.

In a series of experiments, people reported their stress levels and were then exposed to a bug. People who were more stressed got sick and also had worse cold symptoms.

People who exercise regularly get fewer respiratory infections. If you do get a cold, moderate exercise won’t prolong your illness or make your symptoms worse, but it may not shorten them, either. One possible benefit of exercising with a cold: If you’re generally well-hydrated, a workout can break up congestion, notes Dr. Durst, an internist at North Shore University Health System in Chicago. However, your congestion could worsen if you’re dehydrated.

In one study, 164 people had the cold virus shot into their nose and then were quarantined in a hotel for five days. (!)  The researchers tracked who got sick. “The odds of getting sick were four times higher in people who slept six hours or less a night than the people who slept seven hours or more. And that was after accounting for factors that are linked with getting a cold, like age, stress and exercise. “People need to make sleep a priority, not just something you do after everything else gets done,” one of the researchers remarked.

Zinc lozenges release zinc slowly and prevent viruses from replicated or binding to cells in the throat or nose. In a handful of small trials, colds were up to three days shorter in adults who sucked on zinc rather than placebo lozenges every couple of hours throughout their colds. Check the packaging because zinc lozenges that contain citric acid, mannitol, sorbitol, or tartaric acid don’t seem to work. It has to be zinc acetate or zinc gluconate. Discontinue use if the lozenges cause nausea or a lingering bad taste, which happens to some people.

Vitamin C has been tested over and over again for the treatment of the common cold and none of the results show that it helps to make the cold stay for a shorter time or make it less severe – UNLESS you are doing intense physical activity. If that is the case, 250- 1,000 mg a day of vitamin C for two to eight weeks will cut the risk of catching a cold in half!

The Indian cooking spice asafoetida is a gum obtained from a type of giant fennel. It has an offensive smell akin to that of rotting garlic and sweaty feet, but, amazingly, it has an appetizing savory, umami taste. I have mine stored in an air-tight container in the basement. It REALLY smells strongly.  But, it has antibacterial, antiparasitic and antiviral properties. In 2009, researchers discovered certain compounds in the herb were more effective at killing the H1N1 influenza virus than the commercial antiviral drug amantadine. And, if you have a sensitivity to onions or garlic, it is a great substitute!

If you do get sick, reduce the harm to other people. Wash your hands and maybe wear a mask, but most importantly, do not go to work or the grocery store. Since cold and the flu are caused by viruses, antibiotics (which kill bacteria) won’t help. There are antiviral drugs but you have to start taking them within the first two days of feeling sick. They work to lessen the duration of the flu by about a day.

The urge to rest is brought on by the inflammatory cytokines, proteins that the immune system makes when it is fighting off a bug. Lying down when you feel the need is real and necessary to recuperate.

Drink plenty of Cold Busters (1/8/2020 Recipe of the Week) and hot teas. Fluids will help loosen the mucus and replace the water lost if a fever makes you sweat.

Avoid over the counter drugs if you can. They all have side effects.  For example, antihistamines and cough suppressants can cause dizziness and drowsiness, and decongestants can cause insomnia.

Avocado

Avocados are a stone fruit with a creamy texture that grow in warm climates. Their potential health benefits include improving digestion, decreasing risk of depression, and protection against cancer.

There are many types of avocado that vary in shape and color from pear-shaped to round and green to black. They can also weigh anywhere from 8 ounces to 3 pounds.

Avocado is also known as an alligator pear or butter fruit and it is the only fruit that provides a substantial amount of healthy  monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) In fact, 77% of the calories in it are from fat, making it one of the fattiest plant foods in existence. But they don’t just contain any fat. The majority of the fat in avocado is oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid that is also the major component of olive oil and believed to be responsible for some of its health benefits. Oleic acid has been associated with reduced inflammation and shown to have beneficial effects on genes linked to cancer. The fats in avocado are also resistant to heat-induced oxidation, making avocado oil a healthy and safe choice for cooking.

Although I love avocados, it is important to know that each avocado requires 18.49 gallons of water to produce, which means the fruits can be environmentally destructive. In drought-prone Petorca province in Chile, avocado plantations have diverted and stolen water, causing streams to run dry and harming local people. Water conservation activists in Chile opposing the water theft receive threats and little government support. In the state of Michoacan, where 80% of Mexico’s avocados are produced, cartels have crowded into the business and terrorized local people. Buy avocados responsibly – just what you need and ask the vegetable buyer in your local market from where their avocados are sourced. 

Avocados are a naturally nutrient-dense food and contain nearly 20 vitamins and minerals.

Here are some of the nutrients in a single 3.5-ounce  serving:

  • Vitamin K: 26% of the daily value (DV)
  • Folate: 20% of the DV
  • Vitamin C: 17% of the DV
  • Potassium: 14% of the DV
  • Vitamin B5: 14% of the DV
  • Vitamin B6: 13% of the DV
  • Vitamin E: 10% of the DV
  • It also contains small amounts of magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, zinc, phosphorous and vitamins A, B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin) and B3 (niacin).

Avocados also provide lutein, beta-carotene, and omega-3 fatty acids. This serving size has 160 calories, 2 grams of protein and 15 grams of healthy fats. Although it contains 9 grams of carbs, 7 of those are fiber, so there are only 2 “net” carbs, making this a low-carb friendly plant food. Avocados do not contain any cholesterol or sodium and are low in saturated fat.

Although most of the calories in an avocado come from fat, remember that fat is good for you – especially unprocessed fat. Avocados are full of healthy, beneficial fats that help to keep you full and satiated. When you consume fat, your brain receives a signal to turn off your appetite. Eating fat slows the breakdown of carbohydrates, which helps to keep sugar levels in the blood stable.

Fat is essential for every single cell in the body. Eating healthy fats supports skin health, enhances the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, and may even help boost the immune system.

Potassium is a nutrient that most people don’t get enough of. It helps maintain electrical gradients in your body’s cells and serves various important functions. Avocados are very high in potassium. A 3.5-ounce serving has 14% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA), compared to 10% in bananas, which are a typical high-potassium food. Several studies show that having a high potassium intake is linked to reduced blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart attacks, strokes and kidney failure

Avocados contain 25 milligrams per ounce of a natural plant sterol called beta-sitosterol. Regular consumption of beta-sitosterol and other plant sterols has been seen to help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.  Beta-sitosterol is one of the three predominant phytosterols found in plants. These compounds can compete with dietary cholesterol during absorption by the intestines, thereby reducing cholesterol absorption.

Avocados contain lutein and zeaxanthin, two phytochemicals that are especially concentrated in the tissues in the eyes where they provide antioxidant protection to help minimize damage, including from ultraviolet light. As the monounsaturated fatty acids in avocados also support the absorption of other beneficial fat-soluble antioxidants, such as beta-carotene, adding avocados to your diet may help to reduce the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration.

Half of an avocado provides approximately 25 percent of the daily recommended intake of vitamin K. Vitamin K is often overshadowed by calcium and vitamin D when thinking of nutrients important for maintaining healthy bones, however, eating a diet with adequate vitamin K can support bone health by increasing calcium absorption and reducing urinary excretion of calcium.

Avocados may even have a role to play in cancer treatment, with some research finding that phytochemicals extracted from avocado can selectively inhibit the growth of precancerous and cancerous cells and cause the death of cancer cells, while encouraging the growth of immune system cells called lymphocytes. These phytochemicals have also been shown to decrease chromosomal damage caused by cyclophosphamide, a chemotherapy drug.

One-half of a raw avocado contains 82 mcg of folate, or about 21% of what you need for the entire day. Folate is one of the B-vitamins and is needed to make red and white blood cells in the bone marrow, convert carbohydrates into energy, and produce DNA and RNA. Adequate folate intake is extremely important during periods of rapid growth such as pregnancy, infancy, and adolescence. Folate is extremely important for a healthy pregnancy. Adequate intake reduces the risk of miscarriage and neural tube defects.

Despite its creamy texture, an avocado is actually high in fiber with approximately 6-7 grams per half fruit. Eating avocados regularly can help prevent constipation, maintain a healthy digestive tract, and lower the risk of colon cancer. Adequate fiber promotes regular bowel movements, which are crucial for the daily excretion of toxins through the bile and stool. Recent studies have shown that dietary fiber may also play a role in regulating the immune system and inflammation. Fiber is indigestible plant matter that can contribute to weight loss, reduce blood sugar spikes and is strongly linked to a lower risk of many diseases.

About 25% of the fiber in avocado is soluble, while 75% is insoluble. Soluble fiber is known for feeding the friendly gut bacteria in your intestine, which are very important for optimal body function.

Substances called saponins, found in avocados, soy and some other plant foods, are associated with relief of symptoms in knee osteoarthritis, with further research planned to determine the long-term effects of isolated extracts.

Avocados contain substances that have antimicrobial activity, particularly against Escherichia coli, a leading cause of food poisoning.

One study looked at the dietary habits and health of people who eat avocados. They analyzed data from 17,567 participants in the NHANES survey in the US. Avocado consumers were found to be much healthier than people who didn’t eat this fruit. They had a much higher nutrient intake and were half as likely to have metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms that are a major risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.

People who ate avocados regularly also weighed less, had a lower BMI and significantly less belly fat. They also had higher levels of “good” HDL cholesterol.

(Correlation does not imply causation, and there is no guarantee that the avocados caused these people to be in better health. But, avocados ARE good for you!)

Avocados contain a chemical called persin which in large quantities can be toxic to most animals including dogs. In large amounts, it can cause vomiting and diarrhea though in small enough amounts, persin shouldn’t cause any problems. This means that many dogs can eat some avocado but it shouldn’t be a regular treat.

How to Buy

You can tell how ripe an avocado is by gently pressing into the skin. If the avocado is firm and does not budge, you will need to let it ripen for a few days before consuming.

Avocado can be used in a number of different forms, many of which are available to purchase online, including avocado oil. Avocado oil may be used for cooking, or for moisturizing the skin or hair, so check the product information before purchasing.

 

How to Store

Do not refrigerate your avocados, at least not initially. Once picked from the tree, avocados, much like bananas, produce ethylene, which triggers the ripening process. The best temperature is 68 F. Avocados should ripen under these conditions within three to six days.

If you want to accelerate the ripening process, place the avocados in a paper bag. This concentrates the ethylene gas. If you add other fruits, such as bananas and apples, they will all ripen more quickly together. Be sure to keep an eye on your fruit if you use this method; they will ripen quickly.

Once an avocado is ripe, you can hold it in that state longer by placing it in the refrigerator. While this will not halt the ripening process altogether, it will retard it greatly. Similarly, if you have a lot of avocados and want them to ripen at different times, keep them in the fridge until a few days before you want them to ripen.

Just like apples, avocados oxidize quickly and turn brown. While this does not make them inedible, it is aesthetically unpleasant. To save a cut avocado, brush the exposed flesh with lemon juice, place flat on a plate and refrigerate. The acidity of the lemon juice helps stop oxidation, as does limiting the amount of oxygen that comes into contact with the flesh of the fruit.
For long-term storage, freezing is the only effective method. The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) recommends mashing ripe avocados into a puree prior to freezing because whole or sliced avocados do not freeze well. For best results, add a tablespoon of lemon juice to every two avocados to preserve color.

How to Cook

Soft avocados make great guacamole or dip, while firmer avocados are great for slicing and adding to a salad or a sandwich.

Quick tips:

  • Spread avocado on toast in the morning instead of butter.
  • Use avocado instead of mayonnaise or as a spread on a sandwich.
  • The soft, creamy texture of an avocado and its mild taste make it a perfect first food for babies
  • Use to thicken a smoothie

Black Bean Tacos With Avocado and Spicy Onions

Mellisa Clark / Linda Xiao for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Monica Pierini

4 Servings

Ingredients

For the Spicy Onions:
  • 1 lime
  • 1 small red onion or large shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and thinly sliced
  • Large pinch of fine sea salt
  • Small pinch of granulated sugar
For the Black Beans:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • ½ cup diced red or green bell pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • ½ tablespoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • Fine sea salt
  • Corn tortillas, warmed (Corn tortillas today are made from masa harina, a special type of corn flour. While it should be naturally gluten-free, there is an issue with cross-contamination with gluten during processing and packaging. Several masa harina products are milled and packaged in facilities that also handle wheat, rye, and/or barley. Check packaging, it will usually state if the machinery is shared. Otherwise, use spinach tortillas, seaweed or lettuce as a wrap.)
  • 1 avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced
  • Fresh cilantro, salsa and vegan sour cream (Good Karma or Tofutti Sour Cream), for garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. Make the spicy onions: Squeeze the lime into a bowl and add the onion or shallot, jalapeño, salt and sugar to the juice. Set aside while you make the black beans.
  2. Prepare the beans: Heat a large skillet, then add 2 tablespoons oil. When oil is hot, add the onion and bell pepper and sauté until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. If the pan looks dry, drizzle in a little more oil.
  3. Add the garlic and jalapeño and sauté until fragrant, 1 minute. Stir in tomato paste, chili powder, oregano and cumin, and sauté until fragrant. Add the beans and a few large pinches of salt and let simmer until the flavors meld, about 15 minutes.
  4. Taste and add more salt, chili powder and oregano to taste. Serve beans with tortillas and avocado and top with the pickled onions and jalapeño and some of their liquid, adding any of the garnishes you like.

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