It takes more than an apple a day to keep the doctor away. It turns out that eating some pretty surprising nutrients will help keep your immune system on guard. You can ensure your body and immunity run smoothly by rounding out your plate with plenty of colorful servings of fruits and veggies, plus 8 to 10 glasses of water a day, at the very least. The following ingredients can add extra flu-fighting punch to your cold weather meal plan.
Probiotics, or the “live active cultures” found in yogurt, are healthy bacteria that keep the gut and intestinal tract free of disease-causing germs. Although they’re available in supplement form, a study from the University of Vienna in Austria found that a daily 7-ounce dose of yogurt was just as effective in boosting immunity as popping pills. Be sure to pick up containers free of excess added sugar. Plain varieties (which you can flavor with cinnamon and fresh fruit) are your best bets, but anything with less than 8 total grams of sugar is still a wholesome option.
Your optimal dose: One 7-ounce serving daily.
- Oats and Barley
These grains contain beta-glucan, a type of fiber with antimicrobial and antioxidant capabilities more potent than echinacea, reports a Norwegian study. When animals eat this compound, they’re less likely to contract influenza, herpes, even anthrax; in humans, it boosts immunity, speeds wound healing, and may help antibiotics work better.
Your optimal dose: At least one of your three daily servings of whole grains.
This potent onion relative contains the active ingredient allicin, which fights infection and bacteria. British researchers gave 146 people either a placebo or a garlic extract for 12 weeks; the garlic takers were two-thirds less likely to catch a cold. Other studies suggest that garlic lovers who chow more than six cloves a week have a 30% lower rate of colorectal cancer and a 50% lower rate of stomach cancer.
Your optimal dose: Two raw cloves a day and add crushed garlic to your cooking several times a week. (Psst! These garlic-breath-remedies can help keep your breath fresh.)
Selenium, plentiful in shellfish such as oysters, lobsters, crabs, and clams, helps white blood cells produce cytokines—proteins that help clear flu viruses out of the body.
Your optimal dose: Two servings a week (unless you’re pregnant or planning to be).
- Chicken Soup
When University of Nebraska researchers tested 13 brands, they found that all but one (chicken-flavored ramen noodles) blocked the migration of inflammatory white cells—an important finding, because cold symptoms are a response to the cells’ accumulation in the bronchial tubes. The amino acid cysteine, released from chicken during cooking, chemically resembles the bronchitis drug acetylcysteine, which may explain the results. The soup’s salty broth keeps mucus thin the same way cough medicines do. Added spices, such as garlic and onions, can increase soup’s immune-boosting power.
Your optimal dose: Have a bowl when you’re feeling crummy.