Sniffling. Sneezing. Hand sanitizer. It’s that time of year again. Your risk of dealing with an unpleasant sickness spikes once the days get shorter and the air gets colder.
The good news is, loading up certain nutrients can help keep your immune system in superhero shape, so it’s prepared to fight off any nasty virus that comes its way.
Switching things up is key, however. Eating lots of different kinds of foods is important if you want to get all the vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients various fruits, vegetables, and proteins offer. These 15 foods are a good place to start.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that feed your gut what it needs to stay healthy. In fact, there are so many bugs or bacteria on and in your body, some scientists have called them the “second brain” because of how important they are for your immunity and overall health.
According to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, probiotics may actually work to ease your cold symptoms faster. When researchers gave nearly 200 college students a probiotic supplement or a placebo for 12 weeks, they found that students who took the probiotics dealt with a stuffy nose or sore throat for a shorter period of time, even though both groups caught a cold at the same rate.
The symptoms were also 34 percent less severe than what the placebo poppers experienced, possibly because the two strains tested alter your immune system’s reaction to the virus, taming your symptoms in the process, the researchers note.
While more studies continue to emerge, the best recommendation currently seems to be aiming for at least one serving of fermented food per day, because they offer a the biggest variety good-for-you bacteria. Try yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, or other pickled foods daily.
Most of us don’t get enough vitamin D, but that’s a big problem. Vitamin D helps your bones grow, makes your muscles strong, and keeps your penis healthy.
Another perk? Getting enough can slash your risk of respiratory infections, a common culprit behind your runny nose, fever, and sore throat, research suggests. The National Institutes of Health recommends a minimum of 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day, but some organizations and experts recommend much more than that.
The best way to get enough vitamin D is by exposing your bare skin to the sun, but that’s not exactly easy when the days get shorter, especially if you live in the northern U.S. (Or entirely safe, for that matter, since skimping on sunscreen bumps your risk of skin cancer.)
While it’s difficult to get enough vitamin D through your diet alone, you can still find it in foods like egg yolks, fortified milk and orange juice, fatty fish like salmon, and yogurt. Supplementing may also be beneficial here, but always check in with your doc to see if it’s necessary first. (If so, go for 1,000 IUs of a vitamin D3 supplement, like this one from Nordic Naturals.)
While you’re at it, do try to get a little sunshine in your life, too (vacation, anyone?).
COCOA POWDER AND POMEGRANATES
Polyphenols are powerful antioxidants known for their ability to combat cell damage. They’re abundant in many common foods like cocoa powder, dried herbs, and dark berries, such as blueberries and pomegranates.
How does this keep you healthy? One analysis found that the polyphenols in cocoa may have a positive impact on your T cells, which help keep your immune system functioning properly.
In another study in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers had people dealing with a cold take a placebo pill or sip a polyphenol-packed beverage. After taking their daily dose for 10 days, they found that those who consumed the drink reported feeling significantly better than people popping the pill.
Since hydration is important, consider pomegranate juice, like this one from POM Wonderful. One study found that 100 percent pomegranate or black current juice contained the largest concentrations of polyphenols compared to fruit juice blends.
“Ginger has been shown to support the body’s natural defense against diseases by activating T-cells, which are capable of destroying cells that have been infected,” says Manuel Villacorta, M.S., R.D., author Flat Belly 365: The Gut-Friendly Superfood Plan to Shed Pounds, Fight Inflammation and Feel Great All Year Long.
Ginger also contains two phytochemicals, shogaols and gingerols, which have been shown to help stimulate blood circulation and open up your sinuses.
It tastes good and adds a solid “bite” to your favorite meals and drinks. Give it a go in one of your shakes. Blend this: 1 cup of your favorite berries, 1 scoop of vanilla protein powder (we love this organic whey from the Men’s Health store), 1 cup of milk, and one teaspoon of fresh ginger.
ORANGES, STRAWBERRIES, AND BELL PEPPERS
I can hear my mother-in-law saying it now: a little sniffle comes on and she immediately has an orange in hand, telling me to load up on vitamin C.
Well, she’s not far off. While research is mixed, studies show that while vitamin C may not be powerful enough to completely prevent the common cold on its own, it can certainly help fight infections and reduce the duration of your symptoms when taken at higher doses. The National Institutes of Health recommend getting a minimum of 90 milligrams and no more than 2,000 mg of vitamin C per day.
Obviously oranges are a great source of vitamin C, but other citrus fruits like kiwi and grapefruit pack a punch, too. Strawberries, bell peppers, and spinach are also full of the stuff.
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