During cold and flu season, it’s critical to keep your immune system as strong as you possibly can. One key way to do this is to feed your body as many health-building, antioxidant-rich foods as you can. The foods described below are some of the most potent at helping to support immune-system health:
Fresh garlic contains a substance called allicin which is effective against viral and bacterial infection. Since both colds and flu are caused by viruses, adding raw garlic or garlic extract to your diet can only help strengthen your immune system against these winter illnesses. One way to make raw garlic taste better is pickling it. Fill a jar with peeled garlic cloves and cover with white or dark balsamic vinegar. Covered and stored in the refrigerator, this garlic should stay fresh and can be used in salads, soups, stews and other dishes. The garlic-infused vinegar can also be added to salads, along with its equally healthful companion, extra virgin olive oil.
Yogurt — I prefer plain Greek-style yogurt that contains live, active cultures — helps balance your intestinal flora, keeping illness-causing microbes from growing out of control. The probiotics that are present in yogurt also create a more welcome environment for your gut where better absorption of essential nutrients can take place. This will help your body better utilize the other immune-system-strengthening foods mentioned in this article. Greek-style yogurt is thicker, creamier, higher in fat and protein and lower in lactose than regular yogurt, and it makes a healthy and flavorful alternative to sour cream. If you’re concerned about fat, it doesn’t take a lot of yogurt to provide health benefits. A small cup each morning will help, and the presence of fat will help your body absorb the calcium the yogurt contains.
Maitake and shiitake mushrooms are two Asian varieties that have been extensively tested and shown to boost immunity and even protect against cancer. By increasing the production of protective white blood cells while simultaneously reducing inflammation, these potent medicinal mushrooms provide a balanced immune response that helps the body fight off viral and bacterial illnesses while reducing the unpleasant symptoms that the immune response often generates. Sauté, grill or microwave with a little olive oil to best preserve the nutritional and medicinal properties of these botanical powerhouses while enhancing their beneficial fatty acid profile. Avoid boiling and deep-frying to prevent nutrient losses that could significantly decrease effectiveness.
A third medicinal mushroom type that has been extensively tested and found effective is the reishi. While highly beneficial to the immune system, the reishi mushroom is not a variety that’s suitable for use as a culinary enhancement. Its use is purely medicinal, meaning you would be far more likely to find it at your local health food store in the form of a medicinal extract.
Fresh, raw ginger root contains chemical compounds that have been shown to kill the rhinoviruses that cause the common cold. If you do catch a cold despite your best efforts, ginger tea can help reduce congestion, relieve sore throat and act as a natural cough suppressant. Fresh ginger can be grated and added to many Asian dishes. Adding a little raw honey to fresh ginger tea can pack an even more powerful anti-microbial punch while improving the flavor at the same time. This tea is very soothing for a sore throat, though it can also be taken anytime to help keep your immunity up. For a cough, peel the root, slice off a disc and suck on it just as you would a cough drop. You might even chew it lightly to coax out the beneficial juices.
Flaxseed contains antioxidants called lignans that have been shown to exert antiviral and antibacterial action within the body. These immuno-protective properties make flaxseed beneficial for fighting off colds or flu. For best absorption, use ground flaxseed — also called flaxseed meal — which is much easier to digest than whole flaxseeds, giving you the greatest value from the amount consumed.
Flaxseed meal has a mild, pleasant flavor and can be mixed into oatmeal or sprinkled on other cereals, mixed into natural peanut butter as a combination health-builder and thickening agent, or sprinkled over many other foods — especially grains. Try it on buttered toast, a cream cheese bagel, a sandwich and even on pizza for a simple, pleasant and healthful lift. It also makes a soothing drink for those who have managed to catch a cold or flu despite their best efforts. Simply mix a teaspoon or so into a cup of hot water and drink. (You can eat the flaxseed meal, too, when you finish your drink if you’d like.)
Fish such as salmon, halibut, herring, mackerel, tuna, and sardines — including fresh and canned varieties — contain the flu-fighting factors you need to stay healthy in winter. One of the most important but also most easily overlooked is Vitamin D, which protects our bodies in a wide variety of ways. In addition to working with calcium to build strong bones, Vitamin D (known as “the sunshine vitamin” because it is produced on the skin during exposure to sunlight), has other protective roles in the body, as well. It helps reduce the risk of type 1 and type 2 diabetes, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and the list goes on. Among these already impressive credentials, Vitamin D can also claim the distinction of boosting the immune system to help lower the risk of influenza type A. While Vitamin D3 supplementation rather than dietary Vitamin D has been studied and found effective for this purpose, eating a diet that’s rich in Vitamin D will also help enhance immune system function. Other foods rich in Vitamin D are egg yolks, yogurt, milk, and almonds.
Build Health While Fighting Illness
By incorporating as many of the above foods into your daily diet as you can, you may just succeed in keeping the cold and flu bugs at bay this winter while providing your body with a whole host of other health-building benefits.
Vitamin D and influenza A study
Vitamin D benefits
Vitamin D-rich foods