A big ‘ole burrito, pot of easy mac, and slice of pizza may make you feel better after a hangover or bad break-up. But straight up: these greasy eats are no match for the common cold and flu.
When you’re sick you want to be eating foods rich in nutrients like vitamin C, probiotics, protein, and antioxidants because that’s what’s going to supports the healthy and strength of your immune system,” says registered dietician Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com, author of Read It Before You Eat It - Taking You from Label to Table. Here, she and Jonathan Valdez, R.D.N., owner of Genki Nutrition and a spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics share 8 foods they recommend chowing down on to get over a cold, flu, or virus—or to avoid getting sick in the first place.
Unless you’ve been hiding in the pantry, chances are you’ve heard vitamin C is good for your immune system. That’s true. “Vitamin C acts like an antioxidant, eliminating harmful compounds called free radicals that damage healthy cells in the body and can weaken the immune system,” says Valdez. In fact, one study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that taking Vitamin C daily may actually help reduce how often you come down with a cold.
Taub-Dix’s recommendation? Have an 8 ounce glass of 100-percent OJ per day. And when you can, serve it with a healthy heaping of kale. “The vitamin C in the juice will help you absorb the iron, which has also been shown to support the immune system, in the kale,” she says.
Known for their sweet taste, these beauties may not be part of the citrus family but they’re shockingly high in vitamin C. “Just one cup of strawberries has 85 miligrams of vitamin C, which is about 99% of the recommended daily intake for adults and more vitamin C than what’s in an orange.” (PS: this is true for frozen and fresh strawberries).
While you might be tempted to eat your way through a ginormous container of these babes, Valdez warns against going overboard. “In the case of vitamin C, more isn’t better. Excessive vitamin C intake may cause diarrhea, nausea, and cramps,” he says. And let’s be honest, nobody who’s already holed-up with flu-like symptoms needs to add abdominal discomfort to their list of ailments.
Garlic & Onions
Smooching is a no-go if you’re under the weather, so there’s no reason not to nosh on these breath-ruining ingredients. “Both are both rich in phytochemicals that are thought to help the body ward off illness,” says Taub-Dix.
Now, is there scientific research proving that these flavor-bombs fight sickness? No. But there’s a reason they’ve been used for hundreds of hundreds of years as medicines—anecdotally people find that they work. So, go ahead and toss an extra garlic clove or cup of chopped onions into the soup, stir fry, or roast you’re making.
Ah, ginger. The root widely known as the immune-boosting food. Well, according to Taub-Dix, it lives up to its reputation. “Ginger contains chemicals and antioxidants that are thought to bolster the immune system, be soothing for the digestive system, and effective at suppressing coughing fits.” Basically, whether you’ve got (or are trying to fight!) the common cold, flu, stomach bug, or some other seasonal cold, ginger’s your hero in a cape.
“Ginger is wonderful shaved over veggies, in smoothies or sautees, and pairs really well with fish and avocado,” says Taub-Dix. You can also chew on the raw root, or seep it in hot water for a tasty tea.
Turns out Grandma wasn’t spewing nonsense when she said a bowl of this golden goodness at the onset of illness could work wonders. Taub-Dix explains: When you’re sick, and especially if you have a fever which can lead to increased fluid and electrolyte loss, gobbling down a salty broth can help the body maintain homeostasis. Plus, most chicken soup recipes include antioxidant-dense carrots, celery, and onions, which she says can help you fight off the flu faster. Winning!
Another way to get your fill of fluids? Tea. “It doesn’t really matter what flavor the tea is, so long as the blend comes from a fruit, vegetable, or herb, you’ll likely feel better after sipping,” says Valdez. That said, if you’ve got green tea or turmeric tea on hand (er cabinet) drink that. “Green tea contains flavanols and ginger tea contains terpenoids, both of which are phytochemicals that support a well-functioning immune system,” he says. Just don’t sip on green tea before bed: it contains as much caffeine as a cup as a 6 ounce cup of coffee!
Brace yourself—you’re about to learn something shocking: 70 to 80 percent of your immune system is housed in your gut. Really! That’s why Taub-Dix says foods that are good for your gut health are also good for your immune system. And one of the groups of foods that are good for your gut? Foods rich in probiotics. “Probiotics support the good bacteria in your digestive tract, which ultimately keeps your gut healthy and happy,” she explains.
While any fermented food (sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, etc. ) are going to be rich in probiotics, she says kombucha (a fermented tea drink) is especially packed with ‘em. When shopping for a pre-made ‘buch, opt for one with the mother (sometimes called the “SCOBY”) still in—that’s where most of the good bacteria lives.
Yep! You don’t want to skimp out on protein when you’re sick, says Valdez. “The macronutrient is Important for the immune system as they are the building blocks of all cell bodies, including white blood cells and antibodies that protect the body from foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses.”
Of course, red meat isn’t the only protein-source, but beef has the added benefit of being rich in iron and zinc, both of which have been shown to help the body fight infection.