As I’m sure you guys have noticed by now, it’s officially cold and flu season. But that doesn’t mean you have to get sick! Did you know that some foods can help boost your immunity and prevent illness? Besides getting a flu shot, washing your hands regularly, and getting plenty of sleep, eating right also goes a long way towards keeping you healthy. Read on for some of nature’s best illness fighters – all of which can be found at your local grocery store.
Mushrooms contain selenium, deficiency of which may cause increased risk of developing the flu. The riboflavin and niacin found in mushrooms are also associated with a healthy immune system. Try adding a handful to pasta sauce or eggs and omelettes, or throwing them on top of a homemade pizza. Mushrooms are also delicious simply sautéed or roasted with a little olive oil and salt and pepper. You can also try my Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms (these make a tasty and easy vegetarian dinner), Baked Stuffed Baby Bella Mushrooms (awesome holiday party appetizer), or “Cheesy” Vegan Mushroom Quinoa.
This inexpensive winter vegetable is a source of glutamine, which has been noted to strengthen the immune system. I first fell in love with cabbage when I lived in Europe – Germans know how to do red cabbage right. Try it in your winter soups and stews, or throw shredded raw cabbage onto your sandwiches or salads to add a fun crunch.
Almonds are an excellent source of vitamin E, another antioxidant responsible for boosting the immune system. Grab a handful (1/4 cup) to get 50% of your daily recommended amount of vitamin E. They’re one of my favorite afternoon snacks when paired with some fruit! To mix it up, try my Cinnamon Raisin Almond Balls (3 ingredients and an awesome snack), or my Almond Butter Banana Breakfast Bars, an old favorite.
Yogurt often contains live and active cultures called probiotics, which can help stimulate the immune system and keep our gut and intestinal tract healthy and free of disease-causing bacteria. Any yogurt with a Live and Active Cultures seal contains some beneficial bugs – you can see them in the ingredients list as well. Diary products, like yogurt, also tend to be good sources of vitamin D, deficiency of which has been linked to increased risk of contracting a cold or the flu.
Considering how rich in folate, fiber, and antioxidants spinach is, I bet Popeye never got sick! My favorite way to eat spinach is raw in a salad, on sandwiches in place of lettuce, and sautéed in a little garlic and olive oil. I also love it in smoothies – you can’t taste it, I promise! If you’re looking for a sneakily healthy party appetizer, try my Guacamole Hummus that has spinach blended into it! Or, try my Mexican Black Bean Spinach Burgers or my Banana & Spinach Smoothie – you can creep out your roommates by drinking something super green.
Green and black tea contain polyphenols and flavonoids, which are antioxidants that help fight disease. In addition, an amino acid that’s responsible for an immune boost, L-theanine, is abundant in both black and green tea, and decaf versions have it, too. Drink several (unsweetened) cups per day and to get more antioxidants from your tea bags, bob them up and down while they brew.
7. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes and other orange foods like carrots, squash, and pumpkin, contain the antioxidant beta-carotene, which is a form of vitamin A that is essential for keeping your skin strong and able to fight off bacteria and viruses. A half-cup serving of sweet potatoes will deliver 40 percent of the DV of vitamin A as beta-carotene. Try cutting the sweet potatoes into strips and baking them coated in a little olive oil, salt, and pepper to make a healthy homemade version of french fries! Or try two other two sweet potato winter-appropriate favorites: Sweet Potato & Black Bean Veggie Enchiladas and Sweet Potato Lentil Chili.
In addition to warding off vampires, garlic also contains the active ingredient allicin, which fights infection and bacteria with its antibacterial and antifungal properties. Try adding minced garlic into your next dinner – it’s great sautéed with veggies and a little olive oil!
9. Barley & Oats
These grains contain beta-glucan, a type of fiber with antimicrobial and antioxidant capabilities that has been found to stimulate the immune system. It boosts immunity, speeds wound healing, and may help antibiotics work better. With the cooler weather, it’s the perfect time to enjoy a hot bowl of oats for breakfast (try my Perfect Microwave Banana Oatmeal if you haven’t yet). As for barley, here are a few recipe favorites: Spiced Raisin & Pine Nut Barley Salad, Curried Barley Chickpea Salad, and Turkey Veggie & Barley Chili.
Selenium, which is especially plentiful in shellfish such as oysters, lobsters, crabs, and clams, helps white blood cells produce cytokines-proteins that help clear flu viruses out of the body. In addition, salmon, mackerel, and herring are rich in omega-3 fats, which reduce inflammation, increasing airflow and protecting lungs from colds and respiratory infections. I recommend my Pesto Baked Salmon with Veggies.
So there you have it! I hope you found this post useful and interesting. Stay healthy out there, my friends! And thank you to my dietetic intern, Alison, for her assistance with research for this post.
What are your best stay healthy tips for cold & flu season?
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