We’re well into the season for giving — which, of course, isn’t limited to just gifts and gratitude. This time of year, germs seem to be everywhere. And if you’re like me and do a bit of traveling during the holiday season, well, steering clear of all the nasties out there is straight up impossible.
But what is possible is eating in a way that helps to bolster the ol’ immune system so that, even when I’m in seat 10B for a six-hour flight, and 10A is sniffling nonstop, I’ve got a shot at fighting off whatever she just sneezed all over me.
Now, eating a diet rich in fresh fruits and veggies is a great start — and if you make a point to eat the rainbow, even better! But, if you’re looking for some specific foods that’ll really help you put up a good fight, look no further than this list from Dr. Neal Malik. He leads the Master of Science in Nutrition for Wellness program at Bastyr University, and he knows a thing or two about the immune-boosting potential of certain foods. Here are his picks for what to stock in your fridge and pantry.
Foods Proven to Boost Immunity
Mushrooms: A good source of vitamin D and an underutilized immune-boosting food. In fact, clinical researchers discovered improved immune responses in cancer patients who are receiving chemotherapy and radiation after consuming mushrooms.
Turmeric: Typically found as a bright yellow powder, this immune system booster is often used in Asian curry dishes. You may also find turmeric supplements, but be careful with these — many have failed quality testing but are still available on store shelves.
Sweet potato: A fall and winter favorite that’s high in vitamins A and C — a one-two punch when it comes to knocking out bacteria and viruses.
Ginger: May help our immune cells win the battle against colds and the flu. Add fresh ginger to your stir-fry recipes or as part of a salad dressing!
Fresh garlic: Researchers are discovering that this common ingredient may help kill bacteria and viruses. When possible, consume fresh garlic as opposed to relying on garlic capsules/supplements — the jury is still out as to whether these have the same effect.
Hot tea: A perfect beverage on a cold day, we are finding that it may help our bodies ward off infections. Not only that, but as an added bonus, drinking tea will help keep you hydrated.
Cinnamon: A fall and winter favorite, it contains essential oils that may help reduce the amount of time we spend getting over a cold or the flu. But, be careful about using cinnamon sugar, which is not the same as pure cinnamon!
Berries: Naturally high in vitamin C and other powerful antioxidants, these can be enjoyed fresh or frozen. I would recommend consuming whole berries, rather than relying on juices/smoothies. There has been some talk that elderberries may help you recover from illnesses faster, but further research is needed to know for sure.
Honey: This sweetener has been used as an antibiotic for centuries. It was believed that ancient Romans would apply it to their eyes when they had a bout of conjunctivitis (“pink eye”). Turns out, they were on to something: honey has been found to prevent the growth of bacteria. Add it to your tea or as a topping on your whole-grain pancakes or waffles.
Yogurt: A good source of vitamin A, protein and zinc, yogurt is a great snack. Not only that, but yogurt contains healthy bacteria that may protect your digestive tract from disease-causing germs.
Dr. Malik’s advice: Combine yogurt, berries, and a teaspoon of honey, and you’ve got a near perfect superhero snack!
Which of these foods do you eat on the regular? —Kristen