Immune-Boosting Foods

Sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, and coughing. Sound familiar? It’s that time of year again. Extreme changes in temperature, lack of sleep and exercise, chaotic holiday schedules, and stress at work can result in a compromised immune system—just as cases of the common cold and flu are on the rise.

We all know what we should be doing to stay healthy and keep our immune systems strong: Exercise regularly, wash hands frequently, get adequate sleep, drink lots of water, and—this is key—eat healthily.

It’s important to keep your immune system boosted with a variety of vitamins and nutrients. Of course, no food or supplement will guarantee a flu-free season, but some foods have immune-boosting properties that can help ward off pesky bugs. Protein, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and certain vitamins and minerals are all crucial for a healthy immune system.

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Chicken Noodle Soup

Chicken soup’s healing powers are legendary. The broth provides needed fluids, while the salt helps to keep the nasal passages clear and the mucus thin, just like cough medicine. Not willing to make your own chicken soup? Studies show that commercial soups are just as effective as the homemade kinds.

Onions and Garlic

Garlic and onions have several antioxidants and can ward off a number of viruses and bacteria, thereby preventing infections and even potentially decreasing the risk of some types of cancer. Garlic’s medicinal properties are highest when it’s eaten raw and cut, sliced, or chopped up.

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Mushrooms

Mushrooms are extremely high in antioxidants. They’ve been shown to have antiviral, antibacterial, and tumor-fighting properties. They are also known to be a good source of fiber, B vitamins, and essential minerals such as selenium and copper. Studies show that mushrooms increase the production of cytokines, which help fight off infection. The most powerful cold- and flu-fighting types are shitake, maitake, and reishi.

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Citrus Fruits

Citrus fruits are known for their mega-doses of vitamin C, which has immunity-boosting properties, but they offer more than that. Studies show that citrus fruits have more than 8,000 flavonoid compounds, as well as significant amounts of potassium, folic acid, and fiber. They also protect against cardiovascular disease, excessive inflammation, and cancer. Sweet potatoes, butternut squash, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, red bell peppers, and kiwi are also rich in vitamin C.

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Yogurt

Probiotics, also known as “live and active cultures,” are healthy bacteria found in yogurt. Researchers believe they may stimulate your immune system to fight disease. All types of probiotics are beneficial, but the best type is lactobacillus reuteri, which has been shown to stimulate white blood cells. As of now, the only U.S. brand that has this specific strain is Stonyfield Farm. Also look for yogurt that provides vitamin D—there may be a link between low vitamin D levels and increased risk of cold and flu.

Hot Tea

Among many benefits, hot tea soothes the throat and helps keep us warm. But what makes it so healthy? It is filled with disease-fight polyphenols, flavonoids, and catechins. These antioxidants have been shown to destroy cell-damaging free radicals and boost the body’s immune response. Black tea and green tea are the most well known, but they all have benefits.

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Ginger

People use ginger to treat many ailments. It’s used in digestion, as an anti-inflammatory, and as an immune booster. Ginger helps to break down the buildup of toxins in the organs, which make you vulnerable to infections. Add some fresh ginger and some lemon to hot water for an immune-boosting drink.

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These foods can all be incorporated into a healthy diabetic meal plan! Remember that eating well is crucial for good health (mental, physical, and emotional). By staying active and maintaining a healthy weight, you can reduce the frequency of illness and infections.

Shelley Wishnick is a registered dietitian and a certified diabetes educator at Gerald J. Friedman Diabetes Institute at Beth Israel Hospital. »