Flu season is back, and that means you’re probably keeping a healthy distance from anyone who coughs or looks like they’re going to sneeze. But you can also keep colds and the flu at bay by feeding your body immune-boosting foods that will keep your body’s natural defense system strong.
While none of them offer a guaranteed way to cure or prevent colds and viruses, these six healthy foods and minerals, when added to your diet, can help strengthen your immune system.
1. Vitamin C
There’s a reason people guzzle orange juice when they’re sick: It’s loaded with vitamin C, which is great for helping you through sickness, according to the University of Helsinki. But vitamin C can also help you avoid the flu by boosting the production and function of white blood cells, which strengthens your immune system. Citrus fruit is a common source of vitamin C, but red bell peppers and spinach are chock-full of it, too. Vitamin C tablets can be your friend this winter, but it’s best to get your daily dose of vitamin C from food, Harvard Health says.
The bacteria in your digestive system plays a huge role in your immune system’s health, says Penn Medicine. Keeping your gut healthy will give you extra defense for avoiding the flu. Yogurt is a common source of probiotics — the good bacteria that your tummy likes. (If you don’t dig yogurt, you can try a probiotic supplement.) It’s also a good source of vitamin D, which helps regulate and boost the immune system.
3. Chicken Soup
Turns out your grandmother was right: Chicken soup really can help you fight a cold or the flu. You won’t find many studies that specifically look at chicken soup — the medical journal Chest has published a few — But there is a growing body of evidence supporting that it’s a good supplement to a trip to the pharmacy. Why? For one, the broth hydrates you, and the steam from a hot bowl of soup can open up your clogged nasal passages. Moreover, it’s a nutrient-dense food: The veggies provide immune response-boosting vitamin A, and the chicken provides you with vitamin B and zinc, which are both essential in supporting good health.
Speaking of zinc, many over-the-counter natural remedies include the mineral as a key component. According to the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, zinc can reduce the severity of common cold symptoms and help you recover faster. The journal also stated that zinc may improve your immune system’s response to illnesses such as the flu virus.
Zinc is found in many foods, so there’s a good chance you’re already getting a lot of it from your diet. It’s found in meat, shellfish, yogurt, beans and nuts, to name a few.
In general, berries may also reduce your susceptibility to illness. But pomegranate seeds have anti-inflammatory properties and compounds that protect you against bacteria and viruses, according to the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine. Better still: Pomegranates are in season in winter, so you can find them for cheap.
This powerful component of turmeric — the yellow spice commonly found in curry — has many purported health benefits, and a study in the journal Food Chemistry says that it can inhibit flu virus infection. You can try adding this spice to vegetables, soups or meat to up your consumption. If you’re serious about trying this one, though, you may want to try a curcumin supplement, as the amount of curcumin absorbed by the body through turmeric alone may be low.
How to Incorporate Immune-Boosting Foods in Your Diet
Now that you know which foods to eat when avoiding the flu, you’re probably wondering: How can I work them into my diet without getting sick of them? Luckily, many of these foods complement each other, making for tasty winter meals:
- Pumped-up chicken noodle soup: For an even healthier twist on this soup, try making it with whole-grain noodles for added fiber. Add in a squeeze of lemon juice or some chopped bell peppers for more vitamin C, or even some turmeric.
- Yogurt with berries: Plain yogurt topped with your favorite berries, with a little honey for extra sweetness, makes for an amazing immune-boosting breakfast.
- Rice with pomegranates: Yes, rice and berries. Sprinkle some pomegranate seeds on yellow rice for a delicious unique side item to go with baked chicken, fish or pork chops.
- Orange-cranberry muffins: This tasty muffin combines the benefits of vitamin C and berries for a delicious treat that helps you feel good, too. Try making your own using whole-wheat flour to boost the fiber content.
- Smoothies: For picky eaters and those on the go, smoothies are a stellar choice. Try one with yogurt, fruit and spinach for a delicious immune system boost.
Need a flu shot? Visit a pharmacy near you or a Lahey Healthy professional to get yours today.