It’s flu season and there is a lot you can do to keep from getting sick. Here are some of the foods that are known to boost your immune system. I haven’t had a cold or flu in decades, probably because I eat every one of these things regularly, except mushrooms. They’re just so…squishy… but I’m working on it. I’ve been chopping them up really tiny and it does eliminate the squish factor. No excuses!
1. Oily fish: Oily fish—including salmon, tuna, and mackerel—are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, compounds that help reduce harmful inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation prevents your immune system from working properly, and can contribute to colds and flu as well as more serious diseases.
2. Garlic: These pungent cloves do more than just flavor your food. Garlic also contains allicin, a sulfuric compound that produces potent antioxidants when it decomposes.
3. Yogurt & Kefir: We usually think of bacteria as a bad thing, but some of these microorganisms are essential for good health. Eating probiotic foods, such as yogurt and kefir, is a good way to replenish beneficial strains of bacteria, which promote digestive health and help prevent stomach ailments. There are over 10 trillion bacteria living in our gastrointestinal tract, so you want to make sure the good ones outnumber the bad ones.
4. Tea: Everyone knows a steaming hot cup of tea can help break up chest congestion and soothe a sore throat, but the benefits may run deeper. All tea—black, green, or white—contains a group of antioxidants known as catechins, which may have flu-fighting properties.
5. Red Peppers: Like citrus fruits, red peppers are high in vitamin C. In fact, one red pepper has 150 milligrams of the nutrient—that’s twice the recommended daily allowance for women. (A large orange, by comparison, only has about 100 milligrams.)
6. Mushrooms: White button, Portobello, shiitake, and Maitake are just a few of the varieties you’ll find in your grocery store. Fortunately, just about all mushrooms contain some form of immune-boosting antioxidants, along with potassium, B vitamins, and fiber.
7. Leafy Greens: The darker the greens, the higher the nutrient content. So when you’re shoring up your defenses for cold and flu season, choose arugula and kale over iceberg lettuce. Bitter greens like arugula may even help relieve chest congestion, sniffles, and coughs.
8. Dark Chocolate: Ounce for ounce, pure cocoa contains more of the disease-fighting antioxidants known as polyphenols than most berries—and it’s loaded with zinc, to boot. Too often, however, the nutritional benefits of cocoa are overshadowed by the sugar and saturated fat found in chocolate bars and other treats. To reap the immunity-boosting benefits without the unhealthy extras, stick with bite-sized portions—about one quarter-ounce per day—of dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 70% or higher.
9. Carrots & Sweet Potatoes: Orange fruits and vegetables are rich in beta-carotene. When we eat these foods, our bodies convert this organic compound into vitamin A, which is essential for maintaining a strong immune system. Vitamin A is especially important for areas that go haywire when we catch a cold: It keeps the mucous membranes that line our nose and throat—one of the body’s first lines of defense—healthy and functioning properly.
10. Lean Protein: We think we need protein to build muscle, and we do—but actually, we need it to build antibodies and fight infection in the body, as well. Chicken, turkey, and pork are all good sources of protein, but you can also get plenty from meatless sources such as beans, nuts, and dairy. Lean protein is also important because the immune molecules are made of protein.