Flu season is coming at us fast. Don’t lie, whenever someone sneezes close enough to you that you feel a breeze, you wince and wonder how long it will be until you catch the bug. But we’re here to help. “Immune system soldiers need good, consistent nourishment,” says Jennifer McDaniel, R.D.N., a food and nutrition expert. Here are seven essential foods that you should fill your plate with during cooler-weather months to help your immune system work at its optimum level.
Your mama has a good point—soup, including chicken noodle soup, is good for your body when your immune system is being beaten up. “We can get a whole bunch of different ingredients into soup,” says McDaniel, “and when we talk about a diet of prevention, we want a variety of food.” This means ingredients like chicken, which is high in zinc and iron, and vitamin-C rich carrots. Broth also helps with mucus secretion, protecting the body from possible invaders.
Green tea is known as a solid wonder food, but it’s the catechins in it that solidify it as an important part of an immunity-boosting diet. “A catechin is an antioxidant that has been shown to be helpful in the prevention of viruses,” says McDaniel. Especially if you’re already sick, green tea can greatly reduce the time you stay sick.
Honey can help soothe your throat and tone down a nasty cough if you’re already sick, says McDaniel. Honey may also help treat indigestion and acid reflux. Instead of spooning table sugar into your coffee, replace it with honey. Or try apples dipped in honey for a tasty snack.
“There have been studies that show when people took a garlic supplement for at least 12 weeks, they got fewer colds than those who took a placebo,” says McDaniel. Garlic produces potent antioxidants that protect the body against invading germs.
Yogurt contains essential probiotics, or “good” bacteria, that can help decrease the bad bacteria that bring on sickness and give us indigestion. “Any way that we can support our body and immune system with good bacteria, the better,” says McDaniel.
When you feel a cold coming on, the first thing that pops into your head is probably vitamin C. While the jury is still out on whether or not it truly prevents colds, “we do know that it helps to minimize some of the symptoms associated with a cold,” says McDaniel. Citrus fruits like oranges deliver big doses of vitamin C, so stock up. And don’t worry about having too much of the vitamin: It's water soluble, so what you don't use your body just flushes out in your urine.
Sweet potato is high in vitamin C, but it’s the vitamin A that grabs our attention as an immunity-boosting food. “Vitamin A is really important for the mucus membranes that line our nose and throat,” says McDaniel, “and that is really your body’s first line of defense.” McDaniel stresses, though, that you need a well-rounded diet for a fully functioning immune system. That includes protein. “Make sure that you get a little protein with every meal to assist your body in making antibodies.”