When it comes to avoiding bugs, washing your hands is a no-brainer. But what about the foods you eat? Research shows certain foods enhance immunity; others compromise defenses. Regularly eating these seven foods not only lowers your risk for catching colds and flu; it also contributes to disease prevention and longevity, according to deliciousliving.com.
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, says Bob Sears, MD, coauthor of the Sears Parenting Library books.
Get more: 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. Or try Garlicky Greens with Lemon.
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.
Get more: Fill a thermos with green tea and sip at your desk; mix with bubbly water and a bit of stevia for “soda.” Or try Green Tea Granita with Ginger and Citrus.
This crucifer offers more vitamin C than almost any other dark leafy green. Although C may not prevent you from getting sick if exposed to a virus, research indicates it can reduce an infection’s symptoms and duration.
Get more: Steam kale for five minutes and toss with lemon juice, flaxseed oil, and cayenne; add to soups and pastas. Aim for two to three servings of C-rich fresh produce daily. Try this recipe: Toasted Quinoa with Kale and Pine Nuts.
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.
Get more: Sauté chopped mushrooms with garlic and toss into omelets; add to miso soup or pasta sauce. And whip up a batch of this Wheat Berry and Wild Mushroom Soup.
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.
Get more: Start your day with rolled or steel-cut oats with chopped apples and nuts; add oats to baked goods. And try this recipe for Oat and Fig Squares.
Along with oysters, chickpeas, eggs, and red meat, pumpkin seeds are a great source of zinc, an essential mineral for cellular functions, including immune cell production. Even mild zinc deficiency can suppress immunity.
Get more: Add pumpkin seeds to salads, granola, and oatmeal cookies; grind seeds and add to burgers. Or try this delicious Pumpkin Seed Spread.
Probiotics in yogurt have been shown to reduce a cold’s duration and severity and increase flu-vaccine effectiveness.
Get more: Choose low-sugar yogurts and kefirs—you can even make your own. Stir a bit of jam or honey into plain yogurt; add kefir to smoothies; substitute plain Greek yogurt for sour cream on tacos or in dips. A Breakfast Banana Split is a fun way to start the day with yogurt.