The days are shorter, temperatures colder, and germs stronger. Cold and flu season is here. Besides vigilant hand washing, flu shots, drinking lots of water, and getting enough sleep, you can increase your family’s odds of staying well by eating a regular diet of foods that help boost your immune system. Vetted by some research and a bit of family wisdom passed down through generations, here are five foods that I swear by when it comes to keeping my family healthier during cold and flu season.
It turns out that the old wives’ tale about chicken soup curing colds is, in fact, no tale. While the science isn’t conclusive, researchers believe that a steamy bowl of chicken and vegetable soup offers more than just comfort. And it doesn’t matter if it’s homemade or store-bought. Although, if you ask me, nothing compares to a bowl of soup made from scratch — especially if someone else cooks it for you.
I swear by the cold-fighting strength of Greek Avgolemono soup, probably because it’s what my dad made for me as a child. There are many variations of the lemony chicken soup, some more difficult than others. When I’m not up to making my dad’s family recipe, I whip up a quick pot of Valerie Bertinelli’s Greek Lemon Soup. For a more traditional version, try our Easy Homemade Chicken Soup recipe.
A huge percentage of my weekly grocery bill goes to yogurt. I would bathe my kids in it if they’d let me. (Okay, not really, but you get the point.) Thankfully, they’re happy to eat and drink plenty of it, and I believe it keeps them healthy thanks to a hefty dose of immune-boosting probiotics.
It doesn’t matter if you and the kids prefer regular, Greek-style, or drinkable yogurt, as long as you make sure that is has a “Live and Active Cultures” seal. I’m also a big fan of Kefir; the fermented milk drink is like a thicker, more tart version of yogurt and also chock full of probiotics.
As if we needed more reason to love this natural sweetener: Honey is nature’s immune boosting elixir. It contains antioxidants, has antimicrobial qualities, and some believe that it can help with seasonal allergies if locally sourced. Doctors also believe that a spoonful of honey is just a effective as, or maybe even better than, over the counter cough syrup.
We up our honey intake during the winter to boost immunity. I drizzle it on berries, over Greek yogurt (a double immune boost!), and add a bit to steel cooked oats on cold winter mornings.
Research has shown that eating garlic daily can boost your immune system. The pantry staple has anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties. I happen to love garlic — a lot — so I use it in most of my meals all year around. I add an extra clove or two during cold and flu season for good measure.
Adding garlic to other foods that boost your immune system packs a power punch, so make sure to add it to your chicken soup and your beef recipes (see below!). You can even smash a bunch of cloves and cover with local honey to make a extra powerful homemade cough syrup. Roasted garlic is especially delicious, too, and can be used in so many recipes.
A big, juicy ribeye steak is my husband’s favorite cold-fighting meal, and there’s some real science behind it! Beef is loaded with the mineral zinc, which helps boost white blood cell numbers. Similar to those OTC zinc lozenges, the idea is to increase your zinc just when you feel a cold coming on. In our house, that means we’re eating steak, burgers, or a big bowl of beef stew.