The weather has finally reached freezing temperatures. As unseasonably warm as it has been the past few months, we all knew it couldn’t last all winter! This time of year’s dry, cold weather is the perfect condition for the cold and flu viruses to begin their seasonal terror. As I just recently found out, it is a myth that these viruses thrive in warmer temperatures—they are actually more stable in a wintery environment. According to a recent New York Times article, “’Influenza virus is more likely to be transmitted in the winter on the way to the subway than in a warm room’, says Peter Palese, a flu researcher ... at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and the lead author of the flu study.” Although it would be nice to just vacation in the Bahamas for a few months to run away from it all, the more realistic option is to boost our immune system all year long with cold- and flu-fighting foods. Here are a few that are easy to add to your daily diet, and may help when someone on the subway is sniffling and coughing way too close to you.
In many peer-reviewed studies, garlic has been at the forefront as a natural cure (or at the very least, an immune boost) for colds and flu. Although the research is preliminary, there is evidence that it does help both shorten the length of the illness and ease symptoms. Researchers believe this may have something to do with the antimicrobial phytochemical in garlic called allocin. If you want to give this a try, use raw garlic in dips, soups and in your regular dishes (wherever you would use cooked garlic.) If you can’t handle the strong flavor, a garlic supplement may be used for a similar benefit.
Turmeric has been used historically as a preventative measure for colds and flus due to its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidatidant properties. Although you may want to take this one all-year-round to reap the true benefits, it can be made into a tea or mixed with hot almond milk to drink when you’ve already started feeling under the weather.
3. Red Meat
Zinc has long been purported as being a great cold-fighting mineral. Although it does show up in a multitude of foods, it is found in high quantities in red meats and shellfish. One lean ribeye fillet has 95% of your daily value! Red meat also is a great source of iron and protein, two essential nutrients for building strength when you’re feeling weak from illness.
In addition to being heart-healthy thanks to the omega 3’s and 6’s that salmon contains, it is also a great cold and flu fighting food. Vitamin D is essential to healthy immune function, and because we spend a good part of this time of the year inside, we do not get enough of this ‘sun vitamin.’ Salmon can provide a big dose of D, vitamin A, and a lot of B6 and B12. Choose wild-caught over farmed for better nutritional benefits and for a more ethical and environmentally-friendly decision.
If you’ve already been hit with a cold or the flu and your appetite is waning, ginger is a good way to soothe your stomach as it has been used for generations as an anti-emetic. Ginger root has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory benefits as well as levels of vitamin B6, magnesium and manganese. Try skinning the root and steeping chunks in boiling water for a strong tea; flavor with lemon and honey. You can also pick up crystallized ginger from your local grocery store—the sweetness will help to take the spicy edge off.
6. Chicken Soup
Something you’ve probably been eating for years when you come down with a cold has actual health benefits. When you’re sick with a respiratory infection or virus, the first symptoms usually include painful sinuses, clogged nasal passages and ear canals, with a post-nasal drip in your throat. Hot liquids have a clearing effect on these connected pathways, almost like a sauna for your insides. The vegetables and chicken are an easy-to-eat method of getting some filling nutrition into a weakened body, and if you add pasta or rice, the carbohydrate can give a bit of a boost of energy.
Stay tuned next week for some great soup recipes. In the meantime, check out our article on bone broth for a nutritive take on a new Paleo-inspired food trend.
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