Up and down temperatures and sniffling neighbors can only mean one thing: cold and flu season is still in full swing. You already know to wash your hands religiously and get enough sleep, but did you know that what you eat can protect you too?
Incorporate these seven cold-fighting foods into your next grocery list to bolster your family’s immune systems — so you can stay healthy all year long.
Cooking the same chicken cutlets night after night? Consider adding the other white meat to your dinner rotation. Not only is pork tenderloin as low in fat as chicken breast, but it’s also high in the mineral zinc, which, according to the National Institutes of Health, aids your body’s cold-fighting ability. “The body uses zinc to activate infection-fighting cells,” explains Marisa Moore, a registered dietitian and national spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. As a result, she says, kids and adults who don’t get enough of the nutrient are more susceptible to cold and flu viruses.
If you’re shopping for foods rich in vitamin C, you probably bag a few oranges. But strawberries actually contain even more of this powerful antioxidant than citrus fruits: Just eight berries provide as much of the nutrient as the USDA recommends per day. “Vitamin C has been shown to strengthen your body’s resistance to illness,” says Moore. Other top C sources: guava and tomatoes.
The next time you pick up your family’s favorite puffs or flakes, make sure they’re fortified with vitamin D. According to a recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, children who got 1,200 IU of vitamin D daily were 40 percent less likely to catch the flu than those who didn’t. Researchers said the nutrient may help white blood cells destroy viruses and bacteria. For an even bigger D boost, pair that cereal with vitamin-D-enriched low-fat milk.
This hearty nut is full of selenium, a mineral shown by researchers at The University of Edinburgh to be crucial to optimal immune response. “Selenium acts as an antioxidant in the body, which protects against the free-radical damage that wears down your system,” says Moore. Got a nut allergy in your family? Stock up on other sources, such as salmon, turkey and chunk light tuna.
According to research published in the journal Advances in Therapy, this white bulb keeps more than vampires away — it helps keep colds at bay! “The active compound in garlic, allicin, has been shown to have virus-fighting properties,” says Moore. To make the pungent veggie more family-friendly, mince and add to dishes like soup, stir-fries and pasta sauce for a quick hit.
This creamy snack is packed with probiotics, the body-friendly bacteria. Not only do probiotics assist in digestion, but research shows that they also have a serious immune-boosting effect: One study from the University of California, Davis, found that people who ate 1 cup of yogurt daily had higher levels of gamma interferon — a substance that helps immune cells fight off viruses — after a month. Look for brands that contain “live, active cultures.”
Moms love broccoli because it’s packed with nutrients and vitamins — including vitamin C and zinc. Now they can add “fend off runny noses” to the veggie’s list of healthy benefits. Broccoli and other cruciferous veggies — such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale and cauliflower — contain an antioxidant called glutathione, which researchers at the department of immunology and cell biology at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, proved to bolster immunity. Are your kids not fans? Try steaming the veggie and chopping it finely, then mixing it into casseroles, rice pilafs and mac ’n’ cheese dishes.