Some estimates state that Americans get a billion colds each year and there are over 200 viruses that can cause them. Colds can be just the sniffles or morph into pneumonia that results in a visit to the hospital. Many of us have just accepted that we will get sick at some point during the fall and winter months. What if this year you didn’t suffer from a stuffy nose, irritating cough or chills?
It is never too early to start building up your immune system so it is primed and ready to attack an oncoming virus. Interestingly, many foods contain the exact nutrients our bodies need to nourish and strengthen our immune system. Here are my five favorite foods for fighting off colds and flus.
Cabbage: Cabbage is loaded in vitamin C, the top infection fighter and wound healer. Other sources include broccoli, parsley, kiwi and mango. Keep in mind that this sensitive vitamin is damaged by heat so it is a good idea to eat most of your cabbage raw or lightly steamed.
How to use it: My favorite way to use cabbage is to shred it for an Asian style slaw or a green salad with apples and toasted nuts. Experiment with different kinds of cabbage like purple and green cabbage, Napa cabbage, Savoy cabbage. And, don’t forget that bok choy and Brussels sprouts also belong to the cabbage family!
Garlic: Garlic has been used as both food and medicine for thousands of years. Gravediggers in 18th century France drank crushed garlic in wine believing it would protect them from the plague and during both World Wars soldiers were given garlic to prevent gangrene. This little stinker is packed with a phytochemical called allicin, an antimicrobial compound. One study showed that people who took a garlic supplement during cold season were less likely to become sick.
How to use it: Chopping or crushing garlic stimulates the enzymatic process that converts the phytonutrient alliin into powerful allicin. When cooking with garlic be sure to chop it and let it sit for at least 5 minutes to allow this conversion to take place.
Lentils: Zinc is critical for the immune system. When a bacteria or virus enters the body, zinc is responsible for rallying the white blood cells to attack the invader. Other good sources of zinc are grass fed beef and lamb, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, cashews and quinoa.
How to use it: Brown and green lentils become very soft when cooked and are commonly used for lentil soup. French lentils keep their shape and are perfect for a warm or room temperature lentil salad with vinaigrette dressing.
Mushrooms: Mushrooms often get overlooked as a health food but they contain two big cold and flu fighters. The first is selenium, which helps white blood cells produce cytokines that are responsible for mopping up sickness. The second is beta glucan, a type of fiber that has antimicrobial properties that activates cells that find and destroy infections.
How to use it: Shiitake are a powerful mushroom that can easily be found at local farmers markets and grocery stores. Sauté them for a savory frittata or with your favorite greens. You can cook them ahead of time and store them for 2-3 days until you need them. Keep them in a paper bag in the fridge. The bag absorbs the moisture from the mushrooms keeping them fresh longer.
Sweet Potatoes: Are a great source of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant. It helps improve your bodies defenses by helping in the growth and development of the immune system while also neutralizing harmful toxins. You can get beta-carotene from other orange foods like carrots, squash, pumpkin and egg yolks.
How to prepare: Sweet potatoes (and other winter squash) are perfect for roasting. Simply cut into bite-sized cubes, place on a cookie sheet and drizzle with a bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt and roast for 25-30 minutest at 375 degrees. You can eat them as is or mix them with sautéed greens or mash them to use as a filling for a vegetarian burrito.