Nutrition Support to Fight the Flu: Tips for Protecting Elders

By Chef Beth Scholer, CC, CDM, CFPP

As we dig further into winter, much of the country is covered in snow or ice and fighting frigid temperatures.  Another hallmark of winter is the rise in influenza cases.  This flu season has been one of the worst in years- hitting Americans , especially elders,  harder than ever. 

There are many things we can do as caregivers to protect our elderly clients – covering coughs, washing hands and getting our own flu vaccine.  But we often overlook one thing – an elder’s own immune system. It is true that the immune system in older adults is slower to recognize and rid the body of germs. But a slower immune system can still do its part in protecting against the flu and other viruses. Here are a few simple tips for immune support.

Well-balanced Nutrition

Many elders eat less and have limited variety in their diets leading to a lack of key nutrients.   Lean protein from chicken and fish, beans, nuts and seeds are important for immune support and for maintaining strength and mobility. Carbohydrates, fiber and B vitamins from whole grains help to supply energy for daily activities.  Limiting saturated fat and added sugars is also important for overall health. Balance is best – look to MyPlate for Older Adults for more recommendations.

Immune Boosting Foods

Including fruits and vegetables rich in Vitamins C and E, beta carotene and other nutrients are also essential to nutritional health. Try to incorporate berries, citrus, dark green and orange vegetables and leafy greens into meals.  If fresh produce isn’t in the budget, frozen and canned are also good choices.

Incorporate berries, citrus, dark green and orange vegetables and leafy greens for great sources of Vitamins C & E and beta carotene.


Staying Hydrated

We often overlook the importance of hydration in elders.  Along with aiding in digestion and removal of waste from the body, drinking fluids help to keep the mucus membranes in the nose moist-keeping germs at bay.  The sense of thirst is often lost was age, so it’s important that caregivers remind elders to drink regularly.  Having water or other beverages in reach and serving foods high in moisture, like soups, smoothies, fruits and vegetables, can help.

Lifestyle Choice

Along with balanced nutrition, getting enough sleep and regular exercise supports a healthy immune system. Reducing stress, loneliness and having a positive outlook on life will go a long way in overall health.

Illness isn’t inevitable for the older adults. Caregivers can play an active role in the elder’s well-being by encouraging healthful eating and lifestyle choices, offering companionship and helping to keep a positive outlook on life.

Chef Beth Scholer, CC, CDM, CFPP, is a food scientist, culinary instructor, author and founder of Caregivers Kitchen. She is passionate about empowering caregivers to make positive nutritional changes and mealtime meaningful for those in their care.   She can be reached at