With cold and flu season quickly approaching, heading out to the pharmacy every week can get time consuming — and expensive. But finding the best solutions to fight those pesky bugs and viruses could be right in your kitchen!
We all know eating foods that are rich in nutrients can be good for our health, but some say eating them while you’re sick is even more beneficial. Food from good sources will make or break the flu season for us. Our bodies need help during the flu season to ward off illnesses. In addition, you can choose foods that not only feed you, but also will enhance your body’s protection and keep you healthy all year.
Here are eleven foods that experts feel will help you to help yourself to good nutrition and health during the flu season.
Grandma was right — nothing beats chicken soup for fending off sniffles. Not only does it provide the fluids needed to help fight off viruses, it’s a powerful mucus stimulant so it helps clear nasal congestion as well as thin mucus. It’s also thought to have a mild anti-inflammatory effect than can help ease cold symptoms. Keep some organic chicken stock on hand, because studies have found that even commercial soup is as effective as homemade.
If you want to punch up the healing power of your chicken soup — or any other dish — add plenty of garlic and onions. When combined, these flavorful healers contain numerous antiseptic and immunity boosting compounds. As an added plus, garlic helps to open clogged sinuses.
No herbal medicine cabinet should be without mushrooms. They increase the production of cytokines, which are cells that help fight off infection. They also contain polysaccharides, which are compounds that support the immune system. The most potent cold- and flu-fighting mushrooms are shitake, maitake and reishi.
Citrus fruits contain hefty doses of powerhouse vitamin C. Studies have found that this antioxidant can reduce cold symptoms by 23 percent, and all that’s needed is just one to eight grams (1,000 to 8,000 milligrams) to do the trick. Besides citrus fruits, other foods that have high amounts of vitamin C include papaya, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, tomatoes, broccoli, brussel sprouts and red bell peppers.
Studies have shown that eating a cup of low-fat yogurt each day can reduce your susceptibility to colds by 25 percent. The beneficial bacteria is Lactobacillus reuteri which has been found to block the replication of viruses that invade the body when we get sick. Not all brands have that particular bacteria, so check labels and be sure to go organic.
While yogurt is a great source of probiotics, some have more than others and we can really benefit by taking an additional supplement. Other immune-booster “musts” are vitamin D and Omega 3 fatty acid.
Hot tea is soothing and a great home remedy, helping to thin mucus and ensure proper hydration. For added health benefit, sip green or black tea — both are filled with flavonoids, which are potent antioxidants.
Ginger comes to the aid when we’re sick in some powerful ways. Besides soothing a scratchy throat, it has chemicals called sesquiterpenes that target rhinoviruses — which are the most common family of cold viruses — as well as substances that help suppress coughing. Ginger is also a natural pain and fever reducer and a mild sedative so you’ll feel more comfortable and be able to rest easier. Add a couple of tablespoons of shredded ginger root to your tea, or make ginger tea (it comes in tea bags, but you can also simmer fresh sliced ginger to make a potent brew).
Honey has numerous medicinal properties and because it coats your throat, it is a natural way to soothe sore throats. It also has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties to help fight infections from viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Skip the common clover honey that you’ll find in the supermarket as it has the lowest antioxidant level. Look for buckwheat honey, which has the highest. (A note of caution: never give honey to children under one year of age because their immune systems are not developed enough to ward off infantile botulism, which is carried in honey spores.)
It’s ironic that black pepper — the spice best known for making you sneeze — can ward off the sniffles. Black peppercorns are high in piperine, a compound known for its anti-fever and pain-relieving qualities.
Make recipes more flavorful with garlic, thyme, rosemary, sage and oregano — while spicing things up, you’ll also get an added kick of immune-boosters, too.
Do you have any “secret family cures” for the cold or flu that incorporate only items found in your refrigerator or pantry?
Would you like to learn more about how the food that you eat affects not only your weight, but your overall health? Follow our nutrition blog posts from Registered Dietitian. Sign up for weekly email updates about our blog posts. Or get started with an initial nutrition consultation.
Written by Rita Larsen, RD; Elite Sports Clubs Dietitian and Nutrition Counselor