Fun fact: 70% of your immune system is housed in your gut. That’s why keeping yourself healthy — or getting yourself back there when you’re sick — is partially reliant on what you feed it, says Elizabeth Shaw, M.S., R.D.N, nutrition expert and founder of ShawSimpleSwaps.com. The good bacteria (translation: probiotics) found in foods like yogurt can help keep your gut bugs in balance, one key to a healthy immune system — and you!
Loading up on omega-3 rich salmon can help you battle the cold and flu in two ways. For one, omega-3 fatty acids are ant-inflammatory, meaning they help fight the inflammation that’s rampant in our bodies whenever we’re hurt or sick. And, research also suggests that the compound may help ease anxiety, says Shaw, a stressor that can hamper your immune system.
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Oranges get all the vitamin C glory — and while they do contain a good amount of that immune-boosting antioxidant — strawberries actually contain more. Just one cup delivers nearly 99% of your daily value. Since winter isn’t their season, look for them in the freezer section of your supermarket.
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These ruby red arils are packed with more antioxidants than what you’ll find in antioxidant superstar green tea. The juice (try POM Wonderful) has them too — just be mindful of how much you’re swilling, since you’re getting lots of sugar without the beneficial fiber you get when you eat the whole seeds.
6 Red Bell Peppers
Here’s another produce pick that outshines the already antioxidant robust orange. “A medium red bell peppers contains nearly double your daily value of vitamin C,” says Shaw. Despite being called a vitamin, vitamin C actually behaves like an antioxidant and supports the production of infection-fighting white blood cells.
7 Bone Broth
No, this isn’t just a foodie fad. Bone broth is made using more bones and cartilage than regular stock is made from, so you get a concentrated dose of all the essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that help nourish and heal, says Shaw. If you need some flavor, simmer it with anti-inflammatory and infection-fighting ingredients like ginger, garlic, or cayenne for an extra immune boost. Try two quality brands: Osso Good and Bare Bones.
8 Hot Tea
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A cup of steaming tea can help soothe a scratchy throat and warm you right up. Look for a tea blend with spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, which can all help loosen congestion that comes with a cold or the flu. Green tea is another smart choice— it’s high in polyphenols, a powerful type of antioxidant.
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This flavor enhancer has anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties, meaning it may help fight off the infection that’s making you sick, and quell the resulting inflammation. Add it to salad dressing, soup, pasta, stir fries, or roasted veggies for a tasty immune boost.
10 Wild Blueberries
Just like the name suggests, wild blueberries aren’t cultivated, which means they’re higher in anthocyanins, a potent antioxidant that gives them their striking color. Since blueberries aren’t in season during the height of cold and flu time, head to your grocery store’s freezer aisle.
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Winter is citrus season, so take advantage of the bounty by enjoying vitamin C-filled picks like oranges and grapefruit. To get the most benefit, eat the whole fruit, which also contains gut-regulating fiber.
This sweet syrup contains antioxidants to bolster your immune system, and it can also help tame a stubborn cough by soothing the back of the throat and breaking up hack-inducing mucus.
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If the flu has your stomach feeling queasy, incorporate ginger into your diet. It’s known to help ease nausea and calm inflammation, says Shaw.
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These little green trees are known for their fiber content, but one cup of raw broccoli delivers nearly 100% of your daily value of vitamin C. “The nutritional benefits are far more superior if eaten raw or minimally cooked (such as steaming),” says Shaw. Add them raw to a salad, use them as a dipper for hummus, or toss raw florets in a flavorful dressing for a standalone side.
15 Extra Virgin Olive Oil
“Not only does olive oil pack anti-inflammatory properties, some studies show it may also have anti-microbial ones, too,” says Shaw. Drizzle it everywhere — on eggs, salads, meat, fish, veggies, or a slab of fresh whole grain bread.
Senior Editor Alyssa is a senior editor for the Hearst Lifestyle Group Health Newsroom, supporting Prevention, Good Housekeeping, and Woman’s Day.