When the weather turns cool, you probably wouldn't think of going outside without a coat. But when it comes to protecting your body during the winter months, what you put inside of it can be just as important as what you put on it. Eating a variety of foods with immune-boosting benefits can help keep you healthy when cold and flu are most likely to hit.
White Button Mushrooms
While exotic ‘shrooms have been long touted for their health benefits, the most common (and affordable) variety of mushrooms in the US may pack the biggest health punch. White button mushrooms seem to promote immunity by increasing the activity of natural killer (NK) cells, which are a crucial part of the immune system, according to a study from Tufts University in Boston. For an easy health boost, toss raw mushroom slices into your next salad or sauté and add to egg or pasta dishes.
Do you put up a kettle at the first sign of a sore throat? You're on the right track, but drinking tea all winter long may help prevent you from getting that cold in the first place. L-theanine, a compound in black, green, oolong, and pekoe tea, strengthens the body's immune response when fighting off infection, according to researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Bonus: Other studies suggest that the L-theanine in tea may help promote alertness without making you feel jittery.
Sipping this warm broth does more than simply soothe when you're under the weather. Chicken soup has anti-inflammatory properties that inhibit the activity of neutrophils, the white blood cells that are released by viral infections like colds, according to researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. While homemade chicken soup has the greatest benefits, store-bought soups also have some protective powers--just watch out for sodium, which canned foods are notoriously high in.
Used by countless cultures to dial up the flavor of recipes, garlic may also kick your disease-fighting capacity up a couple of notches. Garlic contains a powerful antibacterial compound called allicin. For maximal effects, add raw, chopped garlic to recipes. If the pungent flavor of uncooked garlic is too much to take, crush a clove and let it sit for 10 minutes before you add it to recipes to limit the breakdown of allicin.
Whether raw, steamed or sauteed, broccoli and its cruciferous cousins (such as cauliflower and brussels sprouts) are loaded with the chemical sulforophane. The compound activates antioxidant genes and enzymes that counteract the effects of cell-damaging free radicals, according to researchers at UCLA. Since these defenses break down with age, a diet high in sulforophane-containing foods like broccoli might help give your immunity a youthful boost.
Eating these versatile nuts can boost your body's disease-fighting power, according to microbiologists in Italy, but only if you eat them with their skins on. In a study that compared natural (skins) almonds with skin-free, blanched almonds, the natural nuts decreased virus replication while sans-skin ones seemed to have little impact. Try sprinkling toasted natural almonds over oatmeal or soups, or swapping peanut butter for natural almond butter.
Curcumin, the compound that gives turmeric its yellow color, helps strengthen cell membranes and help cells resist infection, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Not sure how to use turmeric? Aside from its traditional use in Indian curries, you can try using turmeric to jazz up egg salad or soups like butternut squash.
This wintertime super food does double duty as a health booster: Its flesh is loaded with immune-boosting beta carotene, while its seeds are packed with zinc, which helps the body resist infection. To really bolster your immune system, cut a small pumpkin in half, remove and roast seeds to have as a snack later. Bake pumpkin halves in the oven and stuff with wild rice, dried cherries and walnuts.