9 Immune Supportive Foods To Cook With

We tend to pay more attention to our immune system during cold and flu season, when germs are swirling around like a tornado. However, it’s important to focus on practices that will support and strengthen immunity throughout the year. Pathogens are always around us – they don’t take vacations.

No matter the time of year, concentrate on these immune-enhancing foods to keep your immune system healthy and humming. They’ll not only improve your health and can help reduce the severity of symptoms if you’re hit with infections, but make you feel energized, too!

Here are 9 of our favourite cold-fighting foods! (And, if you want to dive in deeper, check out this post for 5 natural cold and flu remedies.)

how to support your immune system and 9 cold-fighting foods to cook with

Garlic

Garlic - cold-fighting foods

Why It’s Awesome

Garlic is potent superfood with anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties. It’s been used throughout history to ward off infections, most recently in World Wars 1 + 2, where garlic was applied to wounds to prevent infections and gangrene. But garlic isn’t just some folk-medicine remedy; there is modern scientific evidence that reveals it can protect us against the common cold.

In one study of 146 volunteers, the people who took a garlic supplement daily for three months were less likely to come down with colds than the placebo group. And, if the garlic group did contract a cold, they recovered much quicker than those taking the placebo. In another study, participants who swallowed aged garlic extract had fewer cold symptoms, missed fewer days of work and improved faster than people who took the placebo. This led researchers to conclude that garlic enhances immune cell function, and has an important role to play in diminishing the severity of colds and flus.

How to Enjoy

Garlic is one of our favourite cold-fighting foods because it can be used in so many dishes! Add it to your soups, stews, stir-fries, dips (like guacamole!), or eat it straight-up raw if you feel a cold coming on. No one will want to kiss you, but if you’re sniffling and sneezing everyone’s likely giving you a wide berth anyway.


Onions

Onions

Photo: Alice Henneman

Why It’s Awesome

Like garlic, onions are an incredibly potent vegetable with cold-fighting properties. In addition to containing the anti-bacterial and anti-viral compound allicin (also found in garlic), onions have a flavanoid called quercetin, a potent antioxidant that protects our cells from damage and has been studied as a flu-fighter.

In one study of mice, researchers exercised the animals and then gave them quercetin or a placebo. The mice who received quercetin had a reduced risk of respiratory infections. Additional research on onion extracts given to rats showed that the onion boosted their immune system, raising their white blood cell count.

Onions are also high in Vitamin C, a well-known vitamin that supports immunity, as well as molecules called Onionin-A that reduce inflammation and help to modulate our immune defenses.

How to Enjoy

Onions can be used as a cold-fighting food in a variety of soups, stews, stir-fries, breakfast casseroles and omelettes, or eaten raw in salads.


Lemons

Lemons

Why It’s Awesome:

Lemons have earned their rightful place as one of the top cold-fighting foods because of their high content of Vitamin C. Vitamin C has become famous for its effect on the common cold, and it’s an important nutrient that supports and strengthens our immune system.

Vitamin C helps shorten the duration and severity of infections, and can play a role in preventing them in the first place. It stimulates immunity – but prevents the immune system from getting out of hand – and helps to reduce inflammation as well. And, as an antioxidant, it protects us from cellular damage.

How to Enjoy

Lemons (and limes) are so easy to incorporate into your daily diet! Add a tbsp of lemon juice to warm water in the morning (this also helps to kickstart digestion), incorporate it into green juices and smoothies, add it to your salad dressings, and use lemon to enhance the flavour of virtually any meal.


Butternut Squash (and all winter squashes)

Potluck

Why It’s Awesome

Butternut squash are rich in cucurbitacins, highly anti-inflammatory compounds that lend the squash its anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. At a deeper immune level, squashes have anti-cancer effects.

Additionally, squashes are high in Vitamin C (discussed above) and Vitamin A, which not only enhances immunity, but also helps to modulate and support the two different arms of the immune system.

How to Enjoy

Wintertime is synonymous with butternut squash and winter squash, and they’re widely available at farmers markets and grocery stores. You can use them as you would any root vegetable: in soups, stews and casseroles, but they can even be incorporated into smoothies, sliced and used as lasagna noodles in Paleo recipes, and pureed and then incorporated into sweet or savory baked goodies like these butternut squash muffins.

If you find yourself befudded at all of the winter squash choices, check out our ultimate guide to winter squash that breaks down each variety and how to use them.


Ginger

Ginger

Why It’s Awesome

Ginger has a delicious, spicy kick that is full to the brim with cold-fighting benefits. It settles the stomach and reduces nausea, making it an optimal food to consume when colds and flus leave you feeling nauseated.

This hardy root contains gingerols, which are powerful compounds that block inflammation, as well as anti-oxidants that reduce inflammation and have anti-cancer properties. Fresh ginger can also prevent viruses from attaching to our airways.

How to Enjoy

Ginger can be added to smoothies, soups (try this carrot ginger version), elixirs, stews, salad dressings, dips and spreads, and homemade crackers.

You can also grate ginger into hot water with some lemon and raw honey for immune and anti-microbial support. If you’re feeling brave, you can also try making fire cider!


Bone Broth

Food waste - how to reduce it

Why It’s Awesome

Research on chicken soup shows that it can reduce inflammation, ease cold symptoms and shorten the amount of time we suffer from respiratory symptoms. Scientists also suggested that broth can rehydrate us, which is particularly helpful if you’ve been spending a lot of time hugging the toilet.

Bone broth is rich in a variety of vitamins, minerals and amino acids that help to nourish the intestinal tract, bones, joints, and teeth. One of bone broth’s superstar nutrients is gelatin, which provides nutrients that supports a variety of conditions including peptic ulcers, tuberculosis, diabetes, muscle diseases, infectious diseases, jaundice, and cancer. It’s especially helpful in supporting the healing of the digestive tract and facilitates digestion by attracting digestive juices to food in the gut.

Grab our full guide to making broths and stocks and start simmering.

How to Enjoy

You can ladle bone broth into a mug and sip away, or build a more substantial soup by adding onions, garlic, ginger, veggies and dark leafy greens. Bone broth is also wonderful as the liquid for cooking grains or in sauces.


Sweet Potatoes

Dehydrator Sweet Potato Chips Recipe Jaclyn Desforges

Why It’s Awesome

Sweet potatoes contain sky-high amounts of Vitamin A, which as we mentioned earlier, enhance and modulate immunity, as well as help to heal mucosal barriers that have been ravaged by infections. A single cup of sweet potatoes offers over 200% of your recommended daily value of Vitamin A!

But that’s not all – sweet potatoes are rich in the immune-supportive Vitamin C, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that can help reduce the pain and swelling you might experience with a cold. You’ll also find a range of B-vitamins, which will help amp up your energy levels when dealing with a cold or flu and help you feel less stressed about it.

How to Enjoy

Sweet potatoes are a versatile cooking ingredient. Chop them up into chunks or wedges for sweet potato fries, roast them whole and then stuff them with beans and toppings, mash them with coconut oil and cinnamon, bake them into chips, use sweet potato puree in baked goods, grate them raw over salads, or spread them over your favourite shepherd’s pie instead of white potatoes.


Mushrooms

Best foods for resistance

Why It’s Awesome

A variety of medicinal and culinary mushrooms are now available at the grocery store – we’re not merely stuck with white button mushrooms! All mushrooms have beta glucans, which support the immune system and modulate it as needed, as well as additional compounds that have anti-viral, antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties. They are also a great source of zinc, an important mineral that supports the immune system and keeps it in check.

How to Enjoy

Whole culinary mushrooms can be used in one-pot meals, savory breakfasts like eggs, omelettes and oatmeal, gluten-free flatbreads, stir-fries and dairy-free soups. They also make great pizza toppings!

Discover more mushroom recipes in this guide to medicinal mushrooms.


Eggs

Best foods for post-partum health

Photo: Joseph Gonzalez on Unsplash

Why It’s Awesome

Eggs contain Vitamin D, which helps to modulate our immune system, reduce our risk of infections and prevent autoimmune diseases. They’re a nutrient-dense source of protein, and protein helps us produce anti-bodies and ward off infections, as well as repair damaged tissue. Eggs are packed with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, Vitamin A for immunity, and B vitamins to help us sleep – something we could all use when we’re under the weather.

How to Enjoy

Eat eggs for breakfast in a variety of ways – scrambled, poached, over-easy, soft-boiled, or however you love your eggs, make an omelette or quiche, use them to bind crackers or gluten-free bread, have a hard-boiled egg as a snack or atop salads, or crack an egg into your hot noodle dishes.

Immune System Lifestyle Tips

These additional handy tips can help further support healthy immunity.

Avoid sugar

Sugary foods inhibit our ability to destroy harmful bacteria, so it’s best to avoid sweet treats if you feel a cold or flu coming on, and also while you’re sick (and that includes the natural sweeteners too). If you’re struggling with sugar cravings, these tips can help.

Reduce stress

You’ve probably heard that stress negatively impacts our health in a variety of ways. When it comes to the immune system and cold and flu season, stress inhibits our adrenal hormones – particularly cortisol, which helps to regulate inflammation. Prolonged stress not only leaves us vulnerable to infections, but also may impact our ability to fight infections once they set in. (For a detailed summary of stress and immunity, check out this meta-analysis.)

Drink loads of water

Hydration is essential to flushing out toxins, supporting digestion, reducing pain and headaches, and transporting chemical messengers throughout the body. So drink up – we recommend the cleanest water source you can find, without chlorine and other chemicals. If plain water sounds boring, try jazzing it up, or consume green juice, smoothies, or herbal teas.

Make your own herbal tinctures and syrups

Concocting herbal tinctures isn’t as difficult as you might expect – all you need is a clean mason jar, a few healthful ingredients, and time. We have a full tutorial on homemade tinctures for you to try.  For immune system support, try making Fire Cider – a fiery mix of a number of immune-enhancing food such as ginger, garlic, onion, horseradish, raw honey and apple cider vinegar – or a homemade elderberry syrup.

Integrating these 9 cold-fighting foods into your regular dietary rotation can help you support the immune system, prevent those inconvenient colds and flus, and help you recover more quickly if you do happen to succumb to the sniffles.

Header Image: iStock/marilyna

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