Load up on these immunity-boosting picks by Maggie Finn Ryan for Prevention via Men’s Health and you’ll kick the bug for good.
When cold and flu season rolls around, we all try to boost our immune systems as best we can: we wash our hands more, drink lots of fluids, and keep our distance from sneezy people.
Most adults get two to three colds a year, which typically last seven to 10 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But while it’s impossible to avoid getting a cold altogether, the right diet can shorten how long the bug lasts.
Fruits and vegetables are the best foods to eat because they are packed with vitamins and minerals that boost your immune system, and they may even reduce the duration of some colds and illnesses, says Torey Armul, R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
It’s all too easy to make unhealthy food choices when you’re sick, since junk food is both quick and comforting. Armul suggests avoiding that temptation by stocking your fridge with nutrient-rich foods.
To learn the best picks, we asked dieticians around the country what they eat to kick their colds to the curb. Read on for their favorite immunity-boosting dishes and snacks.
While this might be a no-brainer, there’s nothing more comforting than eating a bowl of soup when you’re sick.
“I’d choose a beef stew,” says Kristi King, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and clinical instructor at Baylor College of Medicine.
Beef is high in zinc, iron, and selenium, which are all immune-boosting minerals that our body needs, she says.
Armul seconds the idea: “I definitely check the nutrition facts and labels on canned soups, and look for ones that are moderate in sodium but also have some fiber,” she says.
She suggests looking for the “low sodium” designation on food labels, which ensures less than 140mg of sodium. (Be aware that this isn’t the same as the “reduced sodium” label, which only means that the item has less sodium than the original version of the product.)
Herbs and spices have long been used as natural remedies. In particular, garlic and turmeric are “great to boost the immune system and fight off those nasty microbes that have invaded your body when you’re sick,” says King.
Though additional research is needed, one study that was reviewed in 2014 suggests that people who took garlic supplements every day for three months had fewer colds overall than those who took a placebo.
But you may as well go for raw garlic; unlike supplements, raw garlic contains allicin, a compound that produces antioxidants that can fight off bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
King, a Houstonite, is always an advocate for Tex-Mex—especially if she’s sick.
Armul’s favorite fruits to eat when she’s under the weather? Oranges and kiwis, which are both high in vitamin C.
“While the bulk of research shows that vitamin C can’t prevent catching a cold, it might shorten the duration of a cold,” she says.
“Might” is the key word: According to a review of studies, a few trials have shown that vitamin C reduces the duration of colds, but this data was not replicated in all of the therapeutic trials. There’s no harm in trying it, though, say the researchers.
King loves to eat sweet potatoes when she’s sick, because they’re full of nutrients, including vitamin A and vitamin B6.
“Vitamin A is an antioxidant and B6 has been found to play an important role in boosting immunity,” says King.
Nuts and seeds also contain healthy fats.
“There’s some research that shows that polyunsaturated fats can help regulate the immune system,” says Armul.
According to Harvard Medical School, polyunsaturated fats are required for the body to function properly, but the body can’t produce them on its own. That’s why it’s so vital to get them in foods such as nuts, salmon, mackerel, sardines, flaxseed, and walnuts.