Eight foods to superpower your immune system

Story highlights

  • Incorporate these cold-fighting foods into your diet whenever you're fending off the sniffles
  • Garlic can help fight infection; turmeric is rich in antioxidants

As polar vortexes, nor'easters and monsoons ensue across the country, people are more likely to stay indoors, which also means that germs can circulate more easily.

Cue the sniffling, sore throats, coughs and congestion -- classic signs of the common cold.
If you're feeling under the weather, food might be the last thing on your mind. "Some people may lose their appetite [when they're feeling sick] due to diminished sense of taste or smell or lack of energy," says Toby Smithson, MS, RDN, LDN, CDE, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and Founder of DiabetesEveryDay.com.
    But even if you've lost your appetite, it's important to keep consuming nutrient-dense grub. "The longer we go without meeting our nutrient needs, the weaker we can become and the slower our recovery may be," says Maxine Yeung, MS, RD, CDN, NASM-CPT and founder of The Wellness Whisk.
    The old adage that you should "feed a cold, starve a fever" isn't exactly true. Regardless of whether you have a cold or a fever, you should make sure you're consuming enough nutrients to give your body the energy it needs to fuel its immune defenses, says Smithson.
    In the spirit of boosting white blood cells, make a habit of incorporating these cold-fighting foods into your diet whenever you're fending off the sniffles. Better yet? Eat them on a regular basis so your immune system is always firing on all cylinders.

    8 Foods to Boost Immunity and Fight the Common Cold

    1. Chicken Soup
    Chicken soup isn't just good for the soul. It's good if you're feeling under the weather, too. "Research has found that chicken soup helps to prevent inflammatory white cells from moving to other parts of your body, which can decrease your cold symptoms," says Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
    The bone broth in chicken soup contains collagen, which can help boost your immune system, in addition to amino acids and nutrients that help prevent inflammation. "Chicken soup's illness-fighting ability is thought to be related to cysteine, an amino acid released from chicken during cooking. The hot liquid in soup also helps you to stay hydrated, which can help loosen any secretions." Making bone broth at home is really easy -- just follow this recipe.
    2. Yogurt
    Yogurt is a natural source of probiotics, also known as "good bacteria" that live in your gut. Studies have linked good gut health to boosting immunity, better sleep, good digestion -- the list goes on. "The probiotics found in yogurt help to keep our intestinal tracts free of disease-causing bacteria and germs," says Rumsey. "Studies have also found that increased yogurt intake may improve our body's immune response."
    Rumsey recommends choosing yogurts with a "live and active cultures" seal and avoiding heavily sweetened varieties. Be wary of foods that are infused with probiotics, though. Not all probiotics are made equal, and products that contain them don't always have enough active cultures to make a real difference. Not a fan of yogurt or are dairy-free? It's best to stick to other natural sources, like kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut.
    3. Fatty Fish
    Your heart isn't the only thing that can benefit from a dose of omega-3 fatty acids. "Fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna, contain omega-3 fatty acids, which help control inflammation in your body," says Yeung. It's important to consume inflammation-fighting foods on a regular basis, but especially when you're feeling under the weather.
    That's because "chronic inflammation can weaken and disrupt the function of your immune system," says Yeung.
    These delicious Wild Salmon Sweet Potato Cakes feature sweet potatoes, coconut oil and avocados, which are also rich in health-boosting antioxidants.
    4. Garlic
    Good news if you love garlic sourdough bread and dipping veggie sticks in aioli. "Garlic contains allicin, a compound that can help fight infection and bacteria," says Rumsey. "One study showed that people who ate garlic daily were less likely to catch a cold." Eat raw garlic if you're feeling really daring, or add it to soups and other cooked meals to reap the benefits without the vampire-slaying breath.
    5. Foods Rich in Zinc
    Zinc isn't a mineral you want to do away with. "Some studies show that zinc may help reduce the duration of a cold if taken right away," says Yeung.
    "Zinc helps regulate the immune system, build and maintain lean body mass and heal wounds." Yeung says foods high in zinc include oysters, red meat, eggs, fortified cereal, beans and pumpkin seeds.
    6. Turmeric
    This flavorful spice is considered a superfood for a good reason. It's rich in antioxidants and has strong anti-inflammatory properties. Research suggests these qualities make turmeric a strong defense against colds, coughs, and congestion. Try it in a turmeric latte, aka golden milk, or use it to season lean meats, grains and other healthy foods.
    7. Fruits and Vegetables
    It won't surprise anyone to learn that vitamin-rich foods are key to maintaining a strong immune system. Smithson stresses that vitamins A, C, and E are particularly useful in building immunity. Fruits and vegetables are some of the best sources of these nutrients. Foods rich in vitamin A include carrots, dark leafy greens and sweet potatoes.
    Vitamin C can be found in high quantities in citrus fruits, tomatoes, and bell peppers. Dark leafy greens, butternut squash and avocado are excellent sources of vitamin E. Pairing these and other fruits and vegetables with adequate protein intake will help supercharge your immunity, says Smithson.
    8. Plenty of liquids
    In addition to consuming healthy foods, it's also critical to stay hydrated in order to help keep your throat and airways clear, says Yeung. But not all beverages help fight illness. "Hot tea is a great way to stay hydrated, provide warmth and comfort to an irritated and inflamed throat and help relieve congestion," says Yeung.
    "Try to avoid sweetened beverages, like sports drinks and juice, as too much sugar in your body can cause inflammation... which further weakens your immune system."
    The Ultimate Cold Remedy
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    When you're trying to fight off an illness, focus on consuming foods that are packed with nutrients. "It's not what to avoid, but what to include in your diet that is important for immunity," says Smithson.
    And of course, the old adage that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" always applies. "The best way to stave off the cold and flu is try to stay as healthy as possible by maintaining a healthy diet, being physically active and practicing good hygiene," says Yeung.
    "There is no magical food that can help prevent a cold, but lacking in certain nutrients can contribute to a compromised immune system." So for the best cold prevention, focus on eating balanced healthy meals all year-round.