So you want to avoid getting those winter colds and the flu this season but you may not know that your best defense is to visit your grocery store! Washing your hands frequently and getting your annual flu vaccine are the best ways to limit exposure to flu viruses (and your grocery store can help you do both). But eating foods that help fight the flu by strengthening your immune system is another great way grocery stores can help. Getting plenty of key nutrients and preventing deficiencies which can compromise the immune system is a major key to optimizing your immunity. Enhance your immunity further by including foods contributing key plant compounds with anti-viral and anti-histamine action.
Dark green leafy vegetables (such as spinach, kale and broccoli) contribute all three antioxidant vitamins thought to improve immune function (Vitamins A, C, and E) plus they contain Saponins, a plant compound with anti-viral activity. Enjoy a dose of dark green leafy vegetables daily.
Check out these recipes: Simple Sesame Broccoli, 15-Minute Beef, Bean & Spinach Enchiladas
Select citrus often! The anti-viral compounds in citrus tend to be in the pulp and white soft flesh around the segments. So eating rather than drinking citrus is ideal. If you are drinking OJ, make sure to buy the type with pulp because that’s where much of the helpful compounds are. Citrus is also bursting with vitamin C and other antioxidants!
Maximize mushrooms! They give the immune system a boost in part by enhancing natural immunity! Some mushroom compounds are thought to have inhibitory effects at the first stage of virus replication. Some mushrooms may also have anti-viral, antibacterial and anti-parasitic effects through favorably changing the microbe population living in the intestine, according to recent animal studies. Look for light exposed mushrooms with 100% daily value for vitamin D—vitamin D may help activate the immune system.
Seek out surf and turf! Lean beef and select seafood are the top sources of zinc (oysters, crab, beef pot roast, sirloin steak, ground beef, and dark-meat turkey) and zinc is important for the proper functioning of the immune system. You can also find good amounts of zinc in turkey, chicken, lamb, pumpkin seeds, clams, soynuts, and nuts and seeds in general. T cell function declines with age and a recent study with nursing home patients showed that an increase in serum zinc levels was associated with an enhancement of T cell function and number of T cells. (AJCN March 2016 vol. 103 no. 3 942-951)
Enjoy your favorite red fruits! Apples, red grapes, tomatoes, berries and cherries give you a nice dose of the plant compound quercetin, which acts as a strong antioxidant and may reduce infection risk and have anti-viral/anti-histamine action in the body. Kale and broccoli, garlic, onions and tea also contribute a dose of quercetin.
PROBIOTIC TIP: Include probiotic-rich foods like yogurt and kefir with “live active cultures” and vitamin D each day to help boost immunity and increase good bacteria in your intestines (70% of your immune system is located in your digestive tract.) Also consider a probiotic supplement with good-quality evidence behind it—look for the term “clinically proven” on the label and discuss their use with your doctor, pharmacist, or dietitian. Keep in mind probiotic benefits are strain- and dose-specific.
BEVERAGE TIP: Drinking hot green/white tea (and to a lesser extent black tea) helps lubricate your sinuses with steam as you drink and adds key compounds with antiviral, anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory action.