Top Foods to Boost Your Immune System to Fight Cold and Flu
It is official – the annual flu season is upon us. In addition to getting a flu shot, the best protection you can give yourself from getting colds and flu is taking good care of your health, which includes eating the right foods that can help boost your immune system.
Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu activity commonly peaks in the United States in January or February, however, flu activity can begin as early as October and last until as late as May. Plus, during the holiday season between Thanksgiving and Christmas, more people are out and about, shopping and having family gatherings and parties, so more people are in contact with each other, potentially spreading germs faster.
As with football, the best defense is a good offense. Taking charge of your own health through a healthful diet, adequate rest and eliminating bad habits such as smoking and excess alcohol can build up your immune system so it can do its job against outside invaders.
First and foremost, you should strive for a healthful diet that cuts out junk foods that weaken the immune system. Excess fats in particular suppress immune system activity. Sugar inhibits the ability of the white blood cells to fight viruses and bacteria.
Following are 10 additional dietary changes you should make now to help stop cold and flu in its tracks:
Live active cultures found in yogurt (probiotics) are healthy bacteria that keep the gut and intestinal tract free of disease-causing germs. A study from the University of Vienna in Austria found that a daily 7-ounce dose of yogurt is effective in boosting immunity – more so than taking probiotic dietary supplements.
A separate Swedish study found that patients drinking a product containing Lactobacillus reuteri, a specific probiotic that appears to stimulate white blood cells, took 33% fewer sick days than those given a placebo. Stonyfield Farm is the only US brand with this particular strain of probiotic, however, aiming for at least one serving of yogurt with live cultures daily of any brand should help with immune-boosting activity.
Even if you do end up with a cold or flu, the yogurt can help settle those undesirable gastrointestinal side effects you might experience.
To get kids to try yogurt, mix a chocolate flavored Greek yogurt with ¼ cup of high-fiber cereal for a “breakfast parfait.” You can also freeze yogurt to make a healthy flu-fighting dessert.
Oats, Barley and Other Whole Grains
Fiber is not only good for your heart and your digestive system, it may also be beneficial for fighting bacteria and viruses. Beta-glucan, a component of fiber (particularly oat and barley), may activate white blood cells known as macrophages and neutrophils which can assist the immune system in defending itself against invaders. The nutrients may also help speed wound healing and help antibiotics work more effectively.
While it is recommended that adults get at least 25 grams of fiber a day, most Americans tend to get only around 11 grams – primarily because of a dependence on refined flour products and not eating enough fruits and vegetables. Try including oatmeal for breakfast or sneak some barley into a hot soup this winter.
Water, Water, Water
Stay hydrated this winter. The body needs water to keep mucous membranes moist and soft which will inhibit the creation of tiny cracks that would allow the entrance of pathogenic microorganisms. Although most of us like our water cold, liquid at room temperature hydrates the body better than cold.
Some people just don’t like to drink a lot of plain tap water, so for some of your daily liquids, try tea. One study found that people who drank 5 cups of black tea for 2 weeks had 10 times more virus-fighting interferon in their blood than those who drank a placebo hot drink. The amino acid responsible for this immune boost (L-theanine) is abundant in both black and green tea – even the decaf versions. Another compound found in all teas, alkylamine, keeps immune system T-cells at a state of “readiness” to help fight bacteria and other allergens.
Hot beverages are also very comforting when you have a cold or the flu, opening nasal passages that are blocked.
This isn’t just an old-wives tale! Chicken soup really has the ability to block the migration of inflammatory white cells. This is important, because cold symptoms are a response to the cells’ accumulation in the bronchial tubes. The amino acid cysteine, released from chicken during cooking, chemically resembles the drug acetylcysteine which helps to loosen mucus in the airways, helping you breathe easier.