When the weather turns chilly, you spend more time indoors where the air is recycled and you’re in closer quarters with other people who might be harboring cold-causing viruses. Yet even if you share an office, plane ride, or home with someone who is sneezing, sniffling, and coughing, you can stop a cold in its tracks by incorporating these immune-boosting superfoods into your diet this season.
Brightly Colored Fruits and Veggies
Brightly colored fruits and vegetables are packed with immune-supporting vitamins, including vitamins A, C, and E. In addition to the classic oranges, try blueberries, sweet potatoes, pomegranates, carrots, spinach, kale, and broccoli.
Garlic has antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties that can help keep you healthy. European health authorities support the use of garlic for the treatment of coughs, colds, and sinusitis. Although fresh, raw garlic is reported to have the most health benefits, most of its potency will still be retained if you chop or crush it and allow it to stand for 10 minutes before cooking. Take 1 to 2 cloves per day for prevention, and a single clove, 3 to 4 times daily, for acute infection. If you don’t like the taste of garlic, look for garlic capsules providing a daily dose of 4 to 8 mg of allicin, a key compound in garlic with potent antibacterial and antioxidant properties. You can also enjoy onions and leeks, which have high allicin content.
(Precautions: Garlic may interfere with medications used to treat HIV, and in large amounts may have a blood-thinning effect.)
Ginger is known as the universal medicine in Ayurveda. Spicy and warming, ginger helps break down mucous to help clear your respiratory tract and alleviate symptoms of congestion. It also contains phytochemicals that help fight viruses that can cause respiratory illnesses. Ginger is available in capsule form, and you can take 250 to 500 mg up to three times per day; however, I prefer to use fresh ginger in teas and cooked with food. Learn how to make ginger tea with this simple recipe.
(Precautions: Ginger may cause mild heartburn in some individuals. If you are on blood-thinners, take care not to consume ginger in high doses. Although safe at lower doses, pregnant women should not take more than 1.5 grams of dried ginger per day.)
Mushrooms support the immune system. They contain vitamin D, which supports immune function, and some may also help fight certain infections. Look for the more exotic kinds of mushrooms that contain these potent phytonutrients, including shitake, reishi, enoki, and maitake. Add them to your favorite dishes, such as a soup, salad, or stir-fry—or consume them in extract form.
Foods That Contain Zinc
Foods that contain high levels of the mineral zinc can strengthen your immune system and help ward off colds. If you already have a cold, zinc can help reduce the severity of your symptoms and help you heal more quickly. Here are a few of the common foods that contain zinc: legumes (dried beans, garbanzos, black-eyed peas, lentils, peas, and soy), pumpkin seeds, whole grains, nuts, beef, and eggs.
Astragalus root is traditionally taken to strengthen the immune system and prevent and treat respiratory infections. It is usually given as a tonic mixed with other herbs, but I prefer to add the dried root to soups or make a tea. Take 10 to 30 grams of the dried root daily. Extracts in capsule form are also available.
Echinacea may be useful for both prevention and treatment of upper respiratory infections. Echinacea angustifolia, purpurea, and pallida are three species that are typically used, and all three are reported to have antiviral and immune stimulatory effects. Extracts contain both the parts of the plant that grow above ground (aerial) and the roots. The dose varies with each echinacea product depending on the species and plant parts used.
(Precautions: Side effects may include stomach upset and allergic reaction in people with allergies to plants in the daisy family. Echinacea may interact with certain medications, including birth control pills, so it is wise to consult with your healthcare practitioner before using.)
Food as Medicine
Using food as medicine, you can prevent colds and stop viruses from becoming full-blown, hostile takeovers. Having just returned from a weeklong car trip with my three sneezing, coughing, and nose-dripping family members (including a preschooler), I used many of these superfoods to boost my immune system and fight their looming viruses. Upon arriving home, I felt the barrage of my loved ones’ colds finally hitting me, so I made myself a cup of ginger-turmeric honey tea and called my favorite Mexican restaurant to order tlalpeño soup—a delicious concoction of chicken, garlic, onions, carrots, chili pepper, and garbanzo beans. After some additional vitamin C, mushroom extract, a homeopathic remedy, and many more cups of tea, I am still standing strong several days later.