Let’s be real, when you’re sick, the last thing you probably feel like doing is digging into a giant bowl of vegetables. I’m here to point you in the right direction so you’ve got some food “tools” in your toolkit to fight off any sickness during the holiday season. I just so happen to be battling a wicked cold as I type this! Yes, magical unicorn dietitians get sick too.
Everything we eat and drink passes through the gut along the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This GI tract is comprised of a complex environment of bacteria, both good and bad, that is necessary for digestion. Recent research shows there is a close involvement of those bacteria and various aspects of health from behavior, stress response, to our immune system. Seriously, gut bacteria is like the Amazon for researchers right now. So much to discover!
To help those gut bacteria thrive and stave off sickness, focus on incorporating a bunch of whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains into your existing diet. Enjoy those cocktail weenies (in moderation), but perhaps chase it with a salad or a yogurt for breakfast the next day.
Yogurt – 6 ounces a day
Probiotics, or “live active cultures,” found in yogurt are healthy bacteria that help the gut. A recent study found that a daily 7-ounce dose of yogurt was just as effective in boosting immunity as popping a pill. Choose a low-sugar or plain variety and look for a label that says, “Live and Active Cultures.”
Mushrooms – 1/4 oz. to 1 oz. a day
These famous fungi have been used for centuries in various medicinal remedies. Mushrooms help to increase the production of white blood cells, which help fight off infection. Choose shitake, maitake, and reishi varieties for the biggest dose of immunity. Dice and add to pasta sauce, sprinkle over a salad, or sauté with olive oil and add to your morning omelet.
Oats – ½ cup a day
These grains contain a type of fiber called beta-glucan, which contain antimicrobial properties. In addition to boosting immunity, oats can also speed wound healing and help antibiotics work better.
Sweet Potatoes – ½ cup serving
Rich in an antioxidant called beta-carotene, sweet potatoes help to protect your skin, which is the body’s first line of defense against sickness. When beta-carotene is absorbed, the body turns it into Vitamin A whose major role acts as part of the production of connective tissue, a component of skin.
Speed Up Recovery
When you’re hit with a cold, the body produces inflammatory responses like increased mucus production and swollen glands. In addition to foods that help prevent sickness, there are many that help dial down inflammation and ease symptoms.
Research shows that chicken soup calms congestion, thanks to cysteine, an amino acid found in chicken. The hot broth also helps prevent dehydration and soothes a sore throat.
These tasty, breakfast staples are rich in zinc, an immune booster that zaps cold symptoms. Zinc taken within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms can shorten the duration of a cold. No time to cook? Check out my simple method for hardboiling a bunch of eggs at one time.
Decaf Green or Black Tea
Both green and black teas are rich in antioxidants like L-theanine but are also rich in cancer-fighting polyphenols including flavonoids and tannins. Hot drinks also ease sneezing, sore throats, chills, and tiredness.
In addition to eating immune boosting foods, make sure to also follow good sanitary practices, get adequate rest (at least 7-8 hours a night), and get outside to catch some Vitamin D in the form of sunshine as much as possible.