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5 Foods To Always Keep on Hand in Case You Get Sick

Keeping these food items in stock is an excellent way to maintain a happy, healthy immune system.
FACT CHECKED BY Jordan Powers Willard

Flu season is upon us, but that isn't even the worst thing you have to fear. Experts have also been warning people about the tridemic this year, which is the result of an increase in RSV cases, flu cases, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While these can't be 100% avoided, there are ways to prepare for a potential infection this winter. First of all, it's important to prepare our bodies by focusing on a healthy immune system.

To prepare your immune system, the CDC recommends things like maintaining a balanced diet, exercising, taking vitamins, lowering your alcohol consumption, and getting a good night's sleep every night. These steps can help us have healthier immunity, but there's always the chance you'll still catch a cold or flu. When this happens, it's important to have your pantry and refrigerator stocked with helpful immune-boosting foods.

To find out more about which foods would be helpful to support a healthy immune system strong enough to weather the cold and flu season, we asked dietitians about the food they like to have on hand for when they get sick.

Colorful fruit and vegetables

in season produce

Having some colorful produce on hand for when you get sick can help you bounce back more quickly.

"Antioxidants like flavonoids, anthocyanins, and carotenoids help fight the free radicals (aka the bad guys) that can potentially cause damage to your cells and compromise your immune systems," says Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, who is a member of our Expert Medical Board and the author of The Sports Nutrition Playbook. "And thankfully, these nutrients are found in all of your colorful produce."

So, if you come down with a cold or flu bug, what exactly should you have stocked up as far as produce to get these antioxidants into your diet as fast as possible?

"Flavonoids are found in foods like berries, kale, cabbage, and even dark chocolate, anthocyanins are found in berries, grapes, pomegranates, and medjool dates, and carotenoids are found in orange, yellow and red produce like summer squash, pumpkin, mango, and apricots," Goodson says.

Vitamin C

oranges with glass of orange juice

"Vitamin C is another powerful antioxidant that can help keep your immune system strong against disease and illness," says Goodson.

In fact, this vitamin can help your white blood cells grow and produce, which is the kind your body needs to help fight off infection. Furthermore, vitamin C can help fight off free radicals, similar to the other antioxidants mentioned above. You can keep a vitamin C supplement on hand for when you're in a bind, of course. However, you can also get your day's worth of vitamin C from different foods, too.

"While you might only think of oranges and orange juice, you can also get vitamin C from tomatoes and tomato juice, red bell peppers, other citrus fruits like strawberries, and green vegetables like spinach and green beans," explains Goodson.

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Lean beef

ground beef

If you're a meat eater, you may benefit from keeping some lean beef on hand for when you need a nutrient boost after getting sick.

"Zinc is a mineral that helps maintain a strong immune system, and beef is considered an excellent source of zinc, providing almost half of what you need in a day," says Goodson.

If you're a vegetarian or simply prefer plant-based proteins over red meat, according to Goodson, you can also get a zinc boost from legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy foods, and even dark chocolate.

Greek yogurt

greek yogurt

According to Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND, an award-winning nutrition expert and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Family Immunity Cookbook, having some Greek yogurt in your fridge can help with giving your body crucial nutrients in a bind.

"I stock up on large tubs of Greek yogurt because it's a natural source of immune-boosting nutrients like protein, vitamin B12, selenium, and zinc," says Amidor. "Greek yogurt also provides live, active cultures that act as 'good' bacteria in the gut and help protect the digestive tract."

If you don't necessarily like Greek yogurt plain, try one of Amidor's recipes like the Mama's Berry Smoothie, this Yogurt with Berry Compote, or this Hot Cocoa Made With Immunity-Boosting Whipped Cream.

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Green tea

Cup of Green Tea

While technically not a food, sipping on some green tea can help your overall health, especially during flu season.

"I always have green tea bags in my pantry because green tea contains polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants shown to help fight disease," says Amidor. "Polyphenols tend to activate signaling of different pathways in the immune system when a foreign invader is present to help the body respond in whatever way is necessary to help fight it."

If you aren't a fan of hot green tea, you could always try this Green Tea Smoothie Bowl to incorporate the powerful antioxidants in a unique way.

Along with green tea, the items mentioned above are great to have on hand for those times when you suddenly become sick. It's important to care for your immune system at all times, but giving your body these crucial nutrients will help you speed up your recovery process.

Samantha Boesch
Samantha was born and raised in Orlando, Florida and now works as a writer in Brooklyn, NY. Read more about Samantha