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Top 12 Cold and Flu Fighting Foods

Sick woman with flu, cold, fever and cough sitting on couch at home wearing wool sock surrounding by tissue

Getty/Tero Vesalainen

Boost your immune system during cold and flu season with these 12 foods that pack a powerful punch.

For the past few months, it seems like everyone around me has been getting sick. So to give my immune system a boost, I turned to my diet and looked at my daily wellness routine.

Healthy habits—managing stress, listening to your body, rest and relaxation, as well as washing your hands often, drinking lots of water, taking supplements and balancing yourself with meditation, prayer, and time in nature—can all help, but sometimes your daily wellness routine just isn’t enough to fight off the flu. Adding powerful superfoods to your diet may be just the final ingredient you need to keep you flu-free this season. 

Certain foods directly stimulate your immune system; focusing on real, whole foods will enable your immune system to function in its optimal state. Try to reduce and eliminate processed foods as often as possible, especially during cold and flu season. After limiting processed foods, start to add more whole and organic foods to give your immunity a boost.

Here are some top picks for flu fighting foods. I’ve added all these to my own diet and have stayed healthy (so far) all season long.

Blueberries

One of nature’s best superfoods, blueberries are filled with antioxidants and phytoflavinoids. Blueberries are also high in potassium and vitamin C, making them a top choice of nutritionists, naturopaths, and doctors. Not only can they lower your risk of heart disease and cancer, they are also anti-inflammatory, which is why they are a perfect pick for keeping the flu virus away. Eating more blueberries also can help treat and prevent coughs and colds, according to research conducted by the University of Auckland. The research found that consuming flavonoids found in blueberries made adults 33 percent less likely to catch a cold than those who did not eat flavonoid-rich foods or take supplements daily.

Kiwi

When we feel a cold coming on, many of us reach for the orange juice because we know it has a ton of vitamin C, but juice can have a lot of added sugar. Your best bet is to reach for actual fruit—oranges, cherries, strawberries, and kiwis, my favorite pick.

One medium kiwi has 71 mg of vitamin C, or 79 percent of the current daily value. Studies have shown that the vitamin-C-rich kiwi fruit may help reduce oxidative stress, lower cholesterol, and improve immunity.

Wild Salmon

To keep your entire family flu-free this season, add more zinc-rich foods, especially fish like wild salmon. Wild salmon is filled with zinc, a nutrient that has been proven to assist with reducing common cold symptoms.

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. I personally add more zinc whenever I feel a cold coming on, and within hours I feel better.

Greek Yogurt

Yogurt, in general, is a great choice for fighting off bad bacteria and viruses, but I prefer gut-friendly Greek yogurt because it is filled with sickness-fighting probiotics and packed with more protein than regular yogurt. A meta-analysis published in the 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. 

Onions and Garlic

Another great choice is to eat more members of the allium family, including garlic, onions, shallots, and chives. Garlic increases the activity of natural killer cells, thereby reducing the severity of cold and flu symptoms. Foods like onions have properties that increase white blood cell counts, which are essential in fighting off pathogens. If you want a double punch, cook onions and garlic with mushrooms.

Mushrooms

A 2015 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition discovered that mushrooms helped improve immune system function. Mushroom soup, mushroom tea, and mushrooms sautéed with onions and garlic are all a fantastic way to kick flu viruses to the curb.

Mushrooms have antiviral properties because, in part, they contain carbohydrates called glucans. But not all mushrooms are created equal; since each mushroom has a different nutrient makeup, optimize the immune-boosting benefits by adding a variety to your dishes, like shiitake, white button, and portabella.  

Ginger Tea

Don’t forget to drink your fluids. Drinking more water and tea is a powerful way to stay healthy all year round. Hot tea acts as a natural decongestant, helping clear the sinuses of mucus. But nothing beats colds during flu season like a warm cup of ginger tea. With its high levels of vitamin C, magnesium, and other minerals, ginger is extremely beneficial to your overall health.

Inflammation can dampen your body’s immune response, but ginger is an anti-inflammatory, so it’s one of the best foods for relief when treating a common cold. The vitamins, minerals, and amino acids in ginger tea can also help restore and improve your blood circulation. Ginger tea also has calming properties that may help lower your stress and tension. Managing stress is one of the best ways to ward off the flu because it keeps your body in a balanced state and your immune system strong.

Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate to the rescue! Eating dark chocolate (in moderation of course) can be extremely helpful in fighting off a cold. It 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. So grab your dark chocolate bar and eat it with a smile, knowing it is helping you stay healthy.

Spinach

Spinach is a well-known superfood that is excellent for your overall health. Eating leafy greens is a great way to help you feel better because they are full of vitamin C. Spinach is a top pick because it is also packed with digestion-regulating fiber and iron.

Broccoli

Another green goddess choice is broccoli. A member of the cruciferous (aka cabbage) vegetable family, broccoli is super high in antioxidant vitamin A, which help strengthen the immune system.  This flu-fighting food has good amounts of vitamin C and can be added to all kinds of recipes. One cup of fresh broccoli florets provides just 20 calories, 43 percent of your daily recommended amount of vitamin A, and 110 percent of the recommended amount of vitamin C.

Almonds

If you are looking for a healthy midday snack, grab a handful of almonds. They’re high in vitamin E, an immune-boosting antioxidant that’ll help reduce your chance of catching a cold. One ounce of plain almonds provides 7.27 milligrams of vitamin E, which is about half a person’s daily requirement.

Whole Grain Bread

To round out the list, I chose whole grains because they contain anti-inflammatory properties, which allows for an increase in the production of healthy bacteria in your body. According to a study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 70 percent of your immune system lives in your gut. So, it’s a good idea to keep your gut healthy if you want to fight off flu-causing germs!

Want more? Try this recipe for medicinal Fire Cider to give your immune system a boost.


By Shannon Kaiser. Click here for more!

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