- Personal Health Information & Self-Help
Prevent Flu With Immune Boosting Foods
Many people are aware that some foods seem to help cure colds and flu faster than others, but fewer people are aware that certain foods can actually help prevent colds and flu. These foods are known as "immune boosting foods" because they help fight off cold and flu viruses by strengthening your immune system.
Ten Great Immune Boosting Foods
- Garlic. One of the most powerful immune boosting foods is raw garlic. The immune boosting properties of garlic appear to be due to several sulfur-containing compounds found in garlic. Garlic is also a strong antioxidant. Common folk remedies involving raw garlic include swallowing it in honey (a natural antibiotic) and sucking on whole garlic cloves. I prefer to dice or mash it and spread it on bread with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and spices.
- Ginger. Another classic immune boosting food, ginger is known for its warming qualities. It encourages the body to produce a substance called dermicidin, which fights off infections. Ginger is also especially good for soothing stomach and digestive problems. Raw, peeled ginger can be grated onto salads, dropped into tea, or liquefied in smoothies.
- Echinacea tea. Echinacea tea is made from the beautiful native North American wildflower Purple Coneflower and its relatives. Though results in studies have been mixed, a 2007 study by the University of Connecticut combining the results of 14 earlier studies found that echinacea can cut the risk of developing a cold by almost half and shorten the duration of colds. The European Union also approves the short term use of echinacea for prevention of the common cold. Echniacea tea should not be taken by pregnant or nursing women.
- Vitamin C foods. Vitamin C is one of the best known immune boosting nutrients and many people increase their consumption of orange juice during cold and flu season. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and has also been found to increase the production of both disease-fighting white blood cells and antibodies. Foods high in vitamin C include strawberries, oranges, papaya, grapefruit, kiwifruit, tomatoes, red bell peppers, broccoli, and spinach.
- Elderberries have received a lot of attention in recent years because in addition to very high levels of vitamin C, they are also extremely powerful antioxidants and contain compounds called cytokines which help the immune system recognize invading viruses. Elderberries are attractive, easy-to-grow shrubs native to North America, Europe, and Asia. Their berries can be used to make juice, pies, jams, wines, and many other treats.
- Vitamin E foods. Vitamin E is another of the body's most important antioxidants and is also recognized as an important immune system booster because it encourages the production of B-cells, the cells that produce antibodies to fight bacteria and viruses. The best sources of vitamin E are leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale, and nuts and seeds such as sunflower seeds and almonds. A few other fruits and vegetables are also good soures, including broccoli, bell peppers, and blueberries.
- Zinc foods. Zinc increases production of another form of infection fighting cell, T-cells, as well as encouraging production of more antibodies. Good sources of zinc include red meats, including beef, lamb, and venison, seeds such as sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds, and leafy green vegetables such as spinach. Several types of shellfish, including oysters, shrimp, and clams, are also good sources, as are sea vegetables.
- Yogurt with live cultures. Yogurt is a probiotic, which means that it supports the maintenance of healthy gut flora. The stomach and intestines contain beneficial bacteria which act as the first line of defense against many bacterial and viral attacks. The best immune boosting yogurts are plain yogurts with live cultures and no added sugar or sugar substitutes (with the exception of honey). Sugar is an immune suppressant.
- Omega 3 foods. Heart healthy omega 3 fatty acids also help strengthen the immune system by strengthening cell membranes, making it harder for cells to be attacked by bacteria and viruses. Omega 3s also increase the action of phagocytes, immune system cells that attack and "eat" invading bacteria and viruses. Good sources of omega 3 fatty acids include flax seeds, oily nuts such as walnuts, coldwater fish such as salmon, soy products such as tofu, and leafy green vegetables such as spinach.
- Iron foods. Iron is used by the body to manufacture white blood cells, the immune system's guard and attack dogs. Foods rich in iron include leafy green vegetables, red meats, and tofu.
Other Immune Boosters
A healthy diet can make a significant difference in your body's ability to fight off colds and flu with a minimum of harm, but it can't protect you by itself. Other flu-busting tips include:
- Get adequate sleep. Aim for at least 8 hours if you are adult, more for children and teenagers.
- Avoid excessive stress and make time to relax in times of higher stress levels. Activities such as brisk walks, hot baths, massages, relaxation exercises such as yoda or meditation, or even simply taking a couple hours a week to do practice your favorite hobby or sport can help relieve stress.
- Spend time outdoors in the sun. Vitamin D, which the body manufactures from sunlight, is a great immune booster and also helps fight off Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and other wintertime blues, which can make you more susceptible to illness.
- Wash your hands regularly with warm water and plain soap, especially before eating.
- Avoid overusing antibacterial soaps, antibiotic medications, and similar products. They have no effect on cold and flu viruses anyway, and overuse of these products leads to weakened immune systems and the development of dangerous antibiotic-resistant germs.