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Help fight cold and flu season with food to boost your immunity

This flu season, try feeding your immune system—it might pay off with fewer days of aches and pains. Even though flu shot clinics are in full swing, it is also important to stay healthy by watching what we eat. Studies show certain foods can actually help to boost our immunity and fight infection.

Soup – a melting pot of health and healing
There’s a reason mom always had a bowl of soup at the first sign of sniffles. Not only does soup provide fluids you need to help fight off viruses, but it also reduces inflammation that triggers symptoms and leads to more colds. A combination of all the healthy vegetables and other ingredients is best, such as:

Garlic, Onions, and Leeks – Combined, they contain dozens of broad-spectrum antiseptic and immunity-boosting compounds. Another plus with garlic is it helps open clogged sinuses that soothes symptoms. 

Mushrooms– they increase the production of cytokines, cells that help fight off infections. They also contain polysaccharides, another class of compounds that support your immune system. 

Black Pepper – ironically, the spice best known for making you sneeze can ward off sniffles and can open up nasal passages if you’re congested. Black peppercorns are particularly high in piperine, a compound known for its anti-fever and pain-relieving properties. 

Citrus Fruits
Vitamin C most commonly found in citrus fruits, is an antioxidant that can reduce cold symptoms by 23 percent according to research. A review of 21 studies found that just 1 to 8 grams (1,000 to 8,000 milligrams) of the vitamin will do the trick, which you can get from supplements or from citrus fruits, red bell peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, butternut squash, papaya, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.

Another Dr. Mom staple, ginger ale will do more than just soothe a scratchy throat. Ginger contains chemicals called sesquiterpenes that specifically target rhinoviruses, the most common family of cold viruses, as well as substances that suppress coughing. It’s also a natural pain and fever reducer and a mild sedative, so it can help you rest when you’re sick. Adding a couple of tablespoons of shredded gingerroot to your tea can do the trick, but you can also look for ginger chews or real ginger ale (most of the canned stuff has very little real ginger).

Because it coats your throat, it’s a great cold- and flu-friendly sore throat reliever, and its antioxidant and antimicrobial properties help fight infections from viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Buckwheat honey has the highest antioxidant levels; the clover honey that’s ubiquitous in supermarkets has the least. Warning: Don’t give honey to children under 1 year of age. Their immune systems aren’t developed enough to ward off infantile botulism, which is carried in honey spores.

Yogurt contains a bacterium called Lactobacillus reuteri that has been found to block the replication of viruses that invade your body when you get sick. Not all brands carry that particular strain of beneficial bacteria, so look on the label for a brand that does.

Red Wine
The resveratrol and polyphenols in red wine work the same way that beneficial bacteria in yogurt do: When cold and flu viruses enter your system, they start to multiply, and these compounds prevent that from happening. To get the most bang for your buck, grab a bottle of California pinot noir. Tests have found it to have some of the highest levels of resveratrol. Don’t drink? Drink some red grape juice.

Getting adequate selenium (plentiful in oysters, lobsters, crabs, and clams) increases immune cell production of proteins called cytokines a mineral that helps boost immunity. Scientists say that having enough selenium in your body increases production of cytokines, which help clear flu viruses out of the body.  Brazil nuts are a top choice if you don’t tolerate shellfish.

For more information on healthy meal planning and preparation contact registered dietitian, Kristina Adams Smith at

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