The immune system is made up of a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect the body against infection and maintain overall health. The human body is an optimal environment for pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites to thrive.
While no one food will magically fight off the flu, adding these foods to your day will give your immune system a fighting chance through cold season and beyond.
1. Chicken Soup
Chicken soup isn’t just good for the soul. It’s good if you’re feeling under the weather, too. “Research has found that chicken soup helps to prevent inflammatory white cells from moving to other parts of your body, which can decrease your cold symptoms,” says Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The bone broth in chicken soup contains collagen, which can help boost your immune system, in addition to amino acids and nutrients that help prevent inflammation. “Chicken soup’s illness-fighting ability is thought to be related to cysteine, an amino acid released from chicken during cooking. The hot liquid in soup also helps you to stay hydrated, which can help loosen any secretions.”
Yogurt is a natural source of probiotics, also known as “good bacteria” that live in your gut. Studies have linked good gut health to boosting immunity, better sleep, good digestion — the list goes on. “The probiotics found in yogurt help to keep our intestinal tracts free of disease-causing bacteria and germs,” says Rumsey. “Studies have also found that increased yogurt intake may improve our body’s immune response.” Rumsey recommends choosing yogurts with a “live and active cultures” seal and avoiding heavily sweetened varieties. Be wary of foods that are infused with probiotics, though. Not all probiotics are made equal, and products that contain them don’t always have enough active cultures to make a real difference. Not a fan of yogurt or are dairy-free? It’s best to stick to other natural sources, like kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut
3. Fatty Fish
Your heart isn’t the only thing that can benefit from a dose of omega-3 fatty acids. “Fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna, contain omega-3 fatty acids, which help control inflammation in your body,” says Yeung. It’s important to consume inflammation-fighting foods on a regular basis, but especially when you’re feeling under the weather.
That’s because “chronic inflammation can weaken and disrupt the function of your immune system,” says Yeung.
These delicious Wild Salmon Sweet Potato Cakes feature sweet potatoes, coconut oil and avocados, which are also rich in health-boosting antioxidants.
Good news if you love garlic sourdough bread and dipping veggie sticks in aioli. “Garlic contains allicin, a compound that can help fight infection and bacteria,” says Rumsey. “One study showed that people who ate garlic daily were less likely to catch a cold.” Eat raw garlic if you’re feeling really daring, or add it to soups and other cooked meals to reap the benefits without the vampire-slaying breath.
5. Foods Rich in Zinc
Zinc isn’t a mineral you want to do away with. “Some studies show that zinc may help reduce the duration of a cold if taken right away,” says Yeung.
“Zinc helps regulate the immune system, build and maintain lean body mass and heal wounds.” Yeung says foods high in zinc include oysters, red meat, eggs fortified cereal, beans and pumpkin seeds.
This flavorful spice is considered a superfood for a good reason. It’s rich in antioxidants and has strong anti-inflammatory properties. Research suggests these qualities make turmeric a strong defense against colds, coughs, and congestion. Try it in a turmeric latte, aka golden milk, or use it to season lean meats, grains and other healthy foods.
7. Fruits and Vegetables
It won’t surprise anyone to learn that vitamin-rich foods are key to maintaining a strong immune system. Smithson stresses that vitamins A, C, and E are particularly useful in building immunity. Fruits and vegetables are some of the best sources of these nutrients. Foods rich in vitamin A include carrots, dark leafy greens and sweet potatoes.
Vitamin C can be found in high quantities in citrus fruits, tomatoes, and bell peppers. Dark leafy greens, butternut squash and avocado are excellent sources of vitamin E. Pairing these and other fruits and vegetables with adequate protein intake will help supercharge your immunity, says Smithson.
8. Plenty of liquids
In addition to consuming healthy foods, it’s also critical to stay hydrated in order to help keep your throat and airways clear, says Yeung. But not all beverages help fight illness. “Hot tea is a great way to stay hydrated, provide warmth and comfort to an irritated and inflamed throat and help relieve congestion,” says Yeung.
“Try to avoid sweetened beverages, like sports drinks and juice, as too much sugar in your body can cause inflammation… which further weakens your immune system.”
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