Autumn is upon us, and the change of season brings many gifts: crisp days, cozy sweaters, gorgeous apples, spectacular foliage. Not so enjoyable: the cold and flu season that lies in wait. Welcome back sneezing, congestion, scratchy throat and nasal drip. But don’t stock up on Kleenex just yet. While the causes of seasonal afflict are varied, by concentrating on a handful of foods, you can do a heroic job of fighting off those nasty germs.
Colds, which typically last for one to two weeks, account for most days missed at school and work in the United States. Still, armed with a proactive strategy of including immune-boosting foods in your daily diet, you may be able to shorten the duration of your sniffles.
1. Green tea
There’s nothing like a steaming mug of tea to get your system revved to fight germs. Although black, white and green teas all come from the same plant, green tea, made from unfermented leaves, is considered the most potent. Revered as a health elixir for thousands of years in China and Asia, green tea has the highest concentration of polyphenols—powerful antioxidants. Numerous studies have shown that drinking green tea can enhance the immune system. A study published in the February 2008 Nutrition Reviews suggests that the immune cells of tea drinkers were five times more effective at fighting germs than those of coffee drinkers. Green tea, says Grotto, contains high levels of an antioxidant compound called EGCG that reduces inflammation.
Try it: Steep the suggested amount of loose tea or the tea bag in boiling water, but don’t overcook. Steeping for two to three minutes is a good rule of thumb.
One or two cloves of raw garlic a day really can help keep the doctor (and vampires) away. Like tea, garlic is rich in antioxidants, which help destroy free radicals. These rogue particles can damage cell membranes and DNA, leaving you more vulnerable to infections. A study published in the July 2001 issue of Advances in Therapy showed that those consuming garlic daily were two-thirds less likely to catch a cold. Grotto explains that the alliin (a sulphur compound) in the garlic converts into allicin when garlic cloves are crushed. The allicin blocks the enzymes that play a role in bacterial and viral infections, thereby boosting immunity. Allicin also increases the body’s natural killer cells, which gobble up virus cells.
Try it: Cooking garlic reduces its benefits, and crushing (as opposed to chopping) releases more of its compounds. Try eating the crushed garlic raw in a honey balsamic dressing.
Eating a crisp apple makes you feel as healthy as can be. With their high fiber content, apples have the reputation of being the body’s broom, purging trapped toxins. And it’s not just about the fiber—apples also are packed with antioxidants and beneficial flavonoids. Be sure to eat the peel, as that’s where most of the quercetin resides. Quercetin gives apples their color and works as a natural anti-inflammatory. A study published in the June 2012 issue of Antiviral Research showed that quercetin reduced inflammation. The fruit’s vitamin C component further helps reduce the duration and intensity of colds, while apples’ pectin has a strong health-supporting component.
Try it: If you can’t afford organic, wash apples with a mild soap and a vegetable brush. To reap the benefits of pectin, raw apples are best. For quercetin, apples can be raw or cooked—as long as they still have their skin. Try making applesauce with unpeeled apples or drying apples in a dehydrator.