30 Immune-Boosting Foods to Get You Through Cold & Flu Season
Although a change of the seasons and drop in temperature signals the start of the holiday season, it also means the start of cold and flu season. And if you're not careful, you could be one of the thousands of people who catch a cold or flu.
Of course, one of the best ways to keep yourself from getting sick is by getting your annual flu shot, but fortifying your immune system doesn't end at the doctor's office. You can also protect your body from the coughing and sniffles by loading up on these 30 immune-boosting foods we've listed below, which help to naturally boost your immune system. And while you're keeping yourself healthy, be sure to avoid these worst foods for your cold or flu.
Chicken Noodle Soup
Chicken soup is a staple for surviving cold and flu season, and not just because the warm comfort food is a nostalgic throwback to mom taking care of you. According to the University of California Los Angeles, this soup has an anti-inflammatory effect and calms down inflammation in the upper respiratory tract that takes place when you develop a cold. The university also noted that the soup helps relieve nasal congestion.
When it comes to treating a common cold, ginger is one of the best foods for relief. In a review published in the International Journal of Preventative Medicine, researchers summarized that ginger's potent anti-inflammatory properties were key in the root's powers to combat a cold or flu. Because inflammation can affect your body's immune response, anti-inflammatory ginger can play a key role in boosting your immunity.
This spice is more than just a delicious kick to your next dinnertime meal; it contains a powerful anti-inflammatory compound called curcumin. (This same compound is what lends turmeric's signature vibrant orange-yellow color.) According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Immunology, curcumin activates the production of T-cells, which are the main cells fighting for your health in your immune system.
Oranges are packed with vitamin C, an essential nutrient when you're feeling under the weather. According to a review conducted by the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, at the Australian National University, vitamin C is helpful in preventing the common cold for people exposed to sickness-inducing environments, such as cold weather, and can help lower the duration and severity of a cold.
When you're feeling sick, good ol' H2O can be one of the most helpful drinks to sip on. Staying hydrated can help loosen trapped mucus, according to The Mayo Clinic. Try drinking at least the recommended 8 glasses of water a day to keep yourself fully hydrated, since we tend to lose more fluids when we're sick, The Mayo Clinic suggests.
Greek yogurt is filled with sickness-fighting probiotics and is packed with more protein than regular yogurt. A meta-analysis published in the journal Korean Journal of Family Medicine found that probiotics can help to prevent and treat the common cold. The researchers discovered that people who ate probiotics daily had a lower risk of catching a cold than those who did not eat any probiotic-rich food.
Blueberries are filled with antioxidants that can help treat and prevent coughs and colds. According to research conducted by the University of Auckland, consuming flavonoids—a class of antioxidants found in blueberries—made adults 33 percent less likely to catch a cold than those who did not eat flavonoid-rich foods or supplements daily.
Ginseng tea is popular for more reasons than its delicious taste. Namely, the tea has been used as a treatment for upper respiratory tract infections (a.k.a. the common cold). A review published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal noted that ginseng has been shown to significantly reduce the symptoms of colds and influenza. However, the researchers noted that more research needs to be conducted to fully support ginseng's immunity-boosting claims.
Tomatoes are also a great food to eat when you're sick due to their high concentration of vitamin C. Just one medium tomato contains a little over 16 milligrams of vitamin C, which is a proven fuel to your body's immune system. In a German study published by Medizinische Monatsschrift fur Pharmazeuten, vitamin C was shown to be a vital part of the strength of the body's phagocytes and t-cells, two major components of the immune system. The researchers also noted that a deficiency in this nutrient can lead to a weaker immune system and lower resistance to certain pathogens that can lead to illness.
Wild salmon is filled with zinc, a nutrient that has been proven to assist with reducing common cold symptoms. If you want your family, and especially your children, to avoid a cold this winter season, then you should be giving them zinc-rich foods. The Journal of Family Practice published a study examining the effects of zinc on the common cold in children ages one to 10 years old. Researchers found that zinc, in comparison to a placebo, significantly reduced the severity and duration of symptoms when taken within 24 hours of the onset of cold symptoms.
The researchers noted that another trial involving children ages 6.5 to 10 years old proved zinc to also be a helpful component in preventing that cold. The children who took 15 mg zinc daily for seven months were found to be significantly less likely to catch a cold during flu season in comparison to those in the control group.
Believe it or not, dark chocolate can be extremely helpful in fighting off of a cold. Dark chocolate contains a heavy concentration of theobromine, an antioxidant that has been proven to alleviate coughing. A study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology found that theobromine is helpful in suppressing cough symptoms for people with bronchitis, but notes that more research needs to be done to fully confirm their findings.
Red peppers are another vitamin C-rich source for fighting colds. A 2013 review noted in a Harvard Health Letter found that consuming 200 milligrams of vitamin C every day can cut your risk of getting a cold in half, especially if you're active. It also cut down the duration of symptoms by 8 percent in adults and 14 percent in children.
University of California in Los Angeles researchers reported that broccoli can be a great addition to your diet if you're trying to prevent a cold. Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables were proven to help boost immunity, according to the study. Researchers claim that sulforaphane, a chemical in the vegetable, switches on antioxidant genes and enzymes in specific immune cells, which combat free radicals in your body and prevent you from getting sick.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
This oil has been shown to also help rebuild and boost the body's immunity. A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that olive oil's high content of polyunsaturated fatty acids act as an anti-inflammatory agent in the body, which also assisted in boosting the immune system and guarding the body of infection.
Green tea is not only one of our recommended best teas for weight loss, it's also one of the best sources for fighting off a cold. It contains flavonoids, an antioxidant that boosts immunity, and has anti-inflammatory properties, according to a study published in the Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology. The study states that the antioxidant catechin, which is heavily prevalent in green tea, is known to be a powerful antibacterial and antiviral and can kill off cold-starting bacteria and the influenza virus.
Spinach is a major superfood that is great for your overall health. Not only is it packed with digestion-regulating fiber, but it also contains vitamin C. Like with bell peppers and oranges, vitamin C is a powerful nutrient that can assist in preventing the common cold and help reduce symptoms of sickness.
Whole Grain Bread
Whole grains contain anti-inflammatory properties, which allows for an increase of production of healthy bacteria, according to a study published by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Seventy percent of your immune system lives in your gut; so, it's important to keep your gut healthy if you want to fend off any cold-causing germs!
Eggs, and especially the yolks, are packed with immunity-boosting nutrients. Eggs contain a high amount of vitamin D, a vitamin that's vital in regulating and strengthening immunity. According to a study published in the journal JAMA, participants who took a daily serving of vitamin D in the wintertime were less likely to catch a cold or any other upper respiratory tract infection in comparison to those who did not.
Garlic has built a reputation for being one of the best cold-curing foods, and for good reason. A review of the food published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews showed that a group of participants in a study who ate garlic over a three-month period only had 24 cases of the common cold total, a significant decrease in comparison to the 65 cases reported by the control group. However, the researchers noted that more studies need to be conducted in order to validate garlic's true impact on the common cold.
"An apple a day keeps the doctor away" isn't just an old wives' tale—apples actually are some of the most potent foods to boost your immune system. This fruit contains phytochemical antioxidants, according to a study published in Nutrition Journal. These antioxidants help boost immunity and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
Most nuts contain vitamin E, another vitamin that's crucial to fighting off sickness. A study published by the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that taking 50 milligrams of vitamin E daily helped cigarette-smoking men who were 65 years and older living in cities reduce their risk of catching a cold by 28 percent, however the researchers noted that more studies need to be conducted in order to fully validate vitamin E's potential as an immune boosting food in preventing colds.
Light White Tuna
Like salmon, light white tuna is also filled with zinc. This nutrient has a heavy impact on your immune system, and helps reduce symptoms of the common cold, according to a study by theCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. The study found that people who were ingesting at least 75 milligrams of zinc a day were relieved of their cold symptoms in a shorter amount of time in comparison to those who did not.
Rosemary is not only a tasty herb to add to your next dinnertime dish, it's also an amazing anti-inflammatory and is a rich source of antioxidants. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition noted that most herbs, such as rosemary, contain antioxidants that serve as anti-inflammatory properties in the body. This anti-inflammatory effect allows for better digestive and gut health, leading to a boost in your immune system to keep you healthy.
Animal-based bone broths could be the key reason as to why soups are great for you when you're suffering from sickness. According to a study by the American College Of Chest Physicians, chicken soup's broth could be the reason for its anti-inflammatory effect on the body, which leads to relief from major cold symptoms.
All-natural, raw honey not only tastes delicious but can also help soothe some symptoms of a cold. Honey is helpful in relieving sore and itchy throats, says this study published by the Iran Journal of Basic Medical Science. The study also states that honey acts as an antibacterial, killing any germs in the body that can cause you to get sick.
Miso is made from soy, which contains isoflavone antioxidants that help boost the immune system. This study published in the American Society for Clinical Nutrition showed that due to the antioxidant content in soy products, postmenopausal women were able to reduce inflammation in their bodies and boost their immunity.
Oysters, like the rest of the seafood listed earlier, are high in zinc. It is one of the highest recommended seafood to eat for incorporating zinc into your diet, as Dana Corriel, MD and internist suggested in our 27 Doctors' Own Cures for a Cold article.
Mushrooms are great for boosting your immunity, according to a study by the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Research suggests that participants who ate shiitake mushrooms every day for four weeks had a significant increase in numbers and strength of immunity-boosting T-cells. They also noticed a reduction in inflammatory-inducing proteins, proving that shiitake mushrooms also act as an anti-inflammatory agent.
Anise acts as an antibacterial and antifungal, according to an in-depth review of the plant published in the International Scholarly Research Notices: Pharmacology. The study also noted that anise acts as an antiviral, and contains antioxidants that can help boost your immunity.
Fennel has a variety of soothing effects that make it a great immune boosting food that can help relieve you of your flu-like symptoms. A study published in BioMed Research International noted that fennel acts as a soothing mechanism for those suffering from conjunctivitis, diarrhea, fevers, and stomach aches due to its abundance of phytochemicals that act as antioxidants. The research also notes that fennel contains flavonoids that act as anti-inflammatory agents. To find more foods that can help build your immune system and boost your overall health, check out our list of the best anti-inflammatory foods.