Immunity Foods for Cold and Flu Season

Mushrooms can help fight immunity

One of the most important ways to stay healthy is to adopt habits that strengthen immunity. That means getting enough sleep, managing stress, being active, washing your hands properly, and yes, eating well. While no food or supplement can “cure” or even 100% prevent you from catching a virus like the coronavirus or the flu, some foods have been shown to help bolster immunity. Here are some top picks that are easy to incorporate each into your regular eating routine.

This onion relative offers antioxidant flavonoids and sulfur-containing compounds like allicin, which combat oxidative stress and inflammation. Eating garlic helps the immune system make more white blood cells and natural killer cells. Newer research confirms that aged garlic extract may enhance immune cell function. In the study, healthy adults between 21 and 50 received either a placebo or aged garlic extract for 90 days. While there was no difference in the number of illnesses between the groups, those who received garlic had reduced cold and flu severity, fewer symptoms, and a smaller number of missed days of work or school. Reach for fresh garlic cloves rather than a supplement. Add it to cooked veggies, soup, or broth.

When you chop garlic, the cell walls break, activating beneficial enzymes. Before heating, allow chopped garlic to rest for five minutes. Aim for two cloves daily: Mince and add to salad dressings; purée with garbanzos, tahini, lemon juice, and olive oil for hummus.

Join the majority of the world’s people who sip tea all day, not just at teatime.

All teas offer health benefits, but green tea has more polyphenols—antioxidants also found in vegetables, coffee, and red wine. In a newly published survey, Japanese students who drank 1–5 cups daily were considerably less likely to get the flu than those who didn’t drink tea.

Although exotic shiitakes and maitakes have garnered most of the immunity spotlight, recent research shows button-type mushrooms offer similar benefits. In a study conducted with Yale School of Medicine, Japanese scientists found that supplementing with an extract of several mushroom species increased cancer-fighting cells in study subjects after just four weeks. Researchers aren’t sure if eating mushrooms has the same effect, but they are a very good source of immune-boosting minerals, including zinc.

Along with apples and nuts, oats are a good source of soluble fiber, which preliminary research shows stimulates production of the anti-inflammatory protein interleukin-4, bolstering immunity. Polysaccharides called beta-glucans, found in oats, barley, mushrooms, and baker’s yeast, also help immune cells fight bacteria and viruses.

Chicken Soup

When University of Nebraska researchers tested 13 brands, they found that all but one (chicken-flavored ramen noodles) blocked the migration of inflammatory cells—an important finding, 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 bronchitis drug acetylcysteine, which may explain the results. The soup’s salty broth also keeps mucus thin the same way cough medicines do. Added spices, such as garlic and onions, can increase soup’s immune-boosting power.

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