The old adage “prevention is the best medicine” is especially true during cold and flu season. By “prevention,” though, I don’t mean locking yourself up in your house with a bottle of disinfectant for the next three months. That just sounds terrible.
Instead of hiding from everyone who could hack or sneeze on you, beef up your pantry and fridge with immune-boosting fare! These 10 incredible foods are packed full of nutrients that give you awesome bug-battling and virus-fighting superpowers.
The next time you’re in the grocery store, fill your cart with these ingredients and start using your nutrition to aid your immune response and increase your vitality!
1- HOMEMADE BONE BROTH
Nope, bones aren’t just for the dogs! Bones, marrow, and cartilage boast beneficial nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur, and iodine. When cooked, the collagen in bones breaks down and, as it cools, turns into a protein called gelatin. Although gelatin is not a complete protein, it contains several important essential and nonessential amino acids, including arginine, glycine, and proline.
Store bone broth in your fridge. When you want some, heat it up and sip it from a mug, like coffee or tea. I recommend 8 ounces per day to keep viruses at bay.
For an extra health boost, add some of the other ingredients on the list like garlic, onion, and ginger to your broth.
2- GARLIC AND ONIONS
These odoriferous bulbs may not be the best thing before a good-night kiss, but garlic and onions have long been touted as immune boosters. In a double-blind study published in “Advances in Therapy,” volunteers who received a daily garlic supplement were less likely to get a cold, and recovered faster if they became sick.
Consequently, the placebo group recorded more sick days and had a significantly longer duration of symptoms. Allicin, the chemical compound that gives garlic its pungency, has been shown in studies to increase the body’s ability to ward off bacteria and viruses.
Garlic and onions add incredible flavor to all of your dishes. Keep a small container of chopped garlic and onions in your fridge. Sauté a handful for your morning omelet or add it to your steak dinner.
If you’re bold, consume two raw garlic cloves per day to boost your immunity. If you’re worried about garlic breath, eat an apple to neutralize lingering odors.
3- CITRUS FRUITS
American chemist Linus Pauling taught us that citrus fruits are not only a tasty snack, but that they contain high concentrations of vitamin C, which can help ward off common colds. A 2006 Japanese study published in the “European Journal of Clinical Nutrition” showed the risk of contracting three or more colds over a five-year period was reduced by more than 60 percent when subjects ingested 500 mg of vitamin C per day.
Enjoy a grapefruit with your breakfast; include red and yellow bell peppers or broccoli with your lunch or dinner; or snack on oranges, strawberries, or kiwi.
Ginger contains potent chemicals called sesquiterpenes, which target stuffy noses and works to suppress coughs. In a study at the College of Medicine at Kaohsiung Medical University, researchers found that ingesting fresh ginger inhibits the attachment of rhinoviruses to cells and also promotes the secretion of antiviral chemicals to help fight viruses found in mucus membranes.
To keep ginger fresh, store it in a resealable bag with all of the air pressed out. Only peel what you plan to use that day; otherwise, keep it whole. Shave a teaspoon of fresh ginger into your tea, serve it in stir-fry, or chew on it after dinner to aid in digestion.
5- FERMENTED FOODS
Yogurt, kefir, pasteurized pickles, kimchi, and kombucha are not only fun to say three times fast, but are also packed with probiotics. Probiotics are good bacteria that play an important role in balancing your body’s microbiome (the trillions of microorganisms that shack up in your body). These healthy bacteria help balance your digestion, immunity, and metabolism.
Use caution when buying fermented foods. Buy fermented dairy that is low in sugar. All of your live culture foods, including pickles and cabbage, should be purchased from the grocer’s cooler. Many health food stores offer fermented foods from local companies, allowing you to trace the footprint of where and how your food was made.
One serving of Greek yogurt or fermented vegetables can provide far more beneficial bacteria than a probiotic supplement.
6- COLD-WATER FISH
Fatty fish such as tuna, salmon, and mackerel are rich with omega-3 fatty acids, which suppress inflammation. In a recent study published in the “Journal of Leukocyte Biology,” researchers found that fish oil rich in DHA increases B cell (a white blood cell) function and select antibody production, aiding in the fight against invasive bacteria.
Eat 7-10 ounces of fatty fish per week. If you’re concerned about mercury levels, remember that the health benefits of eating cold-water fish far outweigh the slight risk. Play it safe by avoiding canned tuna.
7- SWEET POTATOES
This bright orange root vegetable is a staple in many a gym enthusiast’s diet. But sweet potatoes aren’t just a good source of workout fuel.
Sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene—the reason for the bright orange pigment—which may increase T cell function. This may allow you to ward off infection faster.
Keep cooked sweet potatoes in your fridge so you can grab them at any time. Add them to your morning meal, throw them in a stew, or serve them as a side to grilled chicken (aim for 150-200 grams).
The fungus among us (the kind found in your produce section, not on your shower walls) is a great ally in the fight against pesky respiratory viruses.
Button mushrooms and other shroom relatives increase the production of antiviral proteins to kick out foreign microbes that cause common colds and the flu.
Serve mushrooms as a side dish or salad topper. Wash them thoroughly prior to eating. The brown stuff you see in the container isn’t dirt. Store mushrooms in a plastic container wrapped with plastic wrap. Poke small holes in the top for aeration.
9- BRAZIL NUTS
Like tuna, Brazil nuts are a great source of selenium. Selenium is a trace mineral that boosts the production of cytokine—proteins that support the immune system—and helps your body respond to bacteria and viruses that invade during cold and flu season.
Brazil nuts offer a megadose of selenium, so you don’t need many. Eat 3-4 nuts per day along with your regular meals to help protect your health.
10- PUMPKIN SEEDS
Pumpkin seeds have long been praised by nutritionists for their high zinc content. Zinc is a mineral shown to reduce the duration of a cold and improve immune function. But zinc isn’t the only superstar nutrient found in these bite-size salad toppers.
Pumpkin seeds are plentiful in the antioxidant department, containing high levels of manganese and a wide variety of vitamin E forms. Additionally, they contain 5 grams of protein per 1 ounce serving.
If you aren’t in the habit of roasting your own seeds in the oven, purchase pumpkin seeds that have the shell on. Though the shell itself has little zinc, the husk between the shell and kernel is packed with nutrients.