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10 Immunity Boosting Foods for Cold & Flu Season

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.

immunity boosting foods

1. Mushrooms 

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.

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2. Cabbage

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.

3. Almonds

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.

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4. Yogurt

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.

5. Spinach

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. ;)

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6. Tea

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.

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8. Garlic

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.

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10. Fish

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. :)

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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?

Thank you to One Medical for sponsoring this post! One Medical is an innovative primary care practice that works to positively change health care by improving the experience of their patients. One Medical sees 35% fewer patients each day, allowing for more time with you, and their appointments actually start on time, so you don’t have to spend hours in the waiting room. They are also paperless (everything is digitized and easily accessible), offer online conveniences (online booking, rescheduling, and prescription renewal, plus email access to doctors and lab results), have a time-saving on-site lab, and offer a mobile app for managing health on the go. Their physicians have a balanced, holistic approach to medicine, which you can learn more about here. One Medical has 27 offices in 6 cities (Boston, Chicago, NYC, DC, San Francisco, and Los Angeles), and only charge a small annual fee ($199/year $149 in San Francisco,) to allow them to provide services above and beyond what insurance typically covers. Sounds worth it to me, don’t you think?! To learn more, please check out their website. They also have a great, health-tips focused blog, and you can find them on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Google+ as well.

Comments

  1. 1

    Great food ideas! I love eating all of these in the winter to stay healthy! I also like to add oranges for the vitamin C!

  2. 2

    Great tips, thanks for sharing!

  3. 3

    Love everything on this list!! Thanks for the informative post!

  4. 4

    I use cinnamon, clove, oregano, elderberry, astragalus as well as many if the things you listed.

  5. 6

    I’ve been fighting a cold myself this past week and there have definitely been a lot of these items in my diet this week. I’ve been loving my smoothies packed with spinach and other fruits/veggies to pack in as many nutrients as possible!

  6. 8

    I love eating all the foods on your list–didn’t realize they were so good for my immune system. With respect to cabbage, have you ever eaten it roasted? IMO, it’s the best way to serve it as a side dish. Easy to make and so flavorful!

    http://www.yummly.com/recipe/external/Roasted-Cabbage-Wedges-Martha-Stewart

  7. 10

    Love this post, I am always wondering what to eat to make my immune system healthier… I am going to have to try that banana spinach smooth for sure… I wonder how it would taste with Almond Milk instead? I feel like it sounds disgusting….. but then maybe it would be good!

  8. 13

    My favorites on that list are definitely sweet potatoes & cabbage – I can eat them both pretty much any way they’re fixed! Braised red cabbage is a big favorite of mine.

  9. 15

    Selenium sounds important with the 2 mentions! Unfortunately selenium content of foods is highly variable based on the soil content where they are grown, but a really great source of selenium is brazil nuts :)

  10. 17

    These are all great tips – thank you! So many great recipe suggestions for the next couple months.

  11. 18

    As someone who gets bronchitis pretty much EVERY December, I needed this list! Thanks for all the suggestions!

  12. 19
    Roadrunner says:

    All good, but add Vitamin C?

  13. 21

    YES! I love this list because it only emphasizes that I am EATING THE RIGHT THINGS!!! One weird thing about me though is that I cannot eat mushrooms, yep, add that to the laundry list of foods I cannot eat, lol. But it’s so weird. I love mushrooms and if I eat them, it’s like clock work, at midnight, I will throw up! LOL! Whoops – TMI?? ;)

  14. 23
    Kyla, RD, LD says:

    I bet you’re the best preceptor ever! What a neat rotation, keep up the good work Alison! You’ll be a RD before you know it :)

  15. 25

    didn’t know about a lot of these! i eat them naturally so maybe that’s why i so rarely get sick!? haha

  16. 26

    I hardly ever get colds, but I got one this year! So I have been eating all of those things, minus yogurt, and seems to be keeping it from getting worse!

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