It's cliche, but true: you are what you eat. Sure, getting a flu shot and regularly washing your hands can help cut down your risk of catching the virus, but don't underestimate the impact your diet has on fighting off the flu.
While food can't cure the flu once you've caught it, a diet rich with the right nutrients can help boost and strengthen your immune system so that your body can properly fight off the virus, or avoid contacting it all together.
The bad news: along with foods that help your cause, there's also ones to avoid, too. Both Dr. Charles Passler, nutritionist and founder of Pure Change and Dr. Luke Bucci, VP of R&D at Ritual, agree that the next time your co-worker brings in doughnuts to the office, skip picking one up. "Avoid foods rich in sugar, especially processed (white) sugar, and easy-to-digest, low fiber starchy foods with little protein (pretty much anything made with refined flour and worse if sweet or sugar added)," says Dr. Bucci.
Dr. Passler says that bad fats like old vegetable oils, trans fats as found in French fries, and hard fats such as the lard and shortening found in desserts, will also weaken and inhibit your immune system.
One more food to avoid? Dairy. "Milk doesn’t cause your body to create mucus, but drinking milk may make phlegm thicker and therefore more irritating when you have the flu," explains Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, NYC-based Registered Dietitian, bestselling author The F-Factor Diet, and creator of F-Factor.
So, what should you start stocking up on in your kitchen? Keep scrolling to find out.
No might want to kiss you because of your garlic breath, but it can be helpful in fighting off a cold or flu. Dr. Bucci says that the vegetable has anti-viral and anti-microbial proprieties, and is most effective when eaten raw.
2. VITAMIN C
"Vitamin C can significantly increase the activity of the 'natural killer cells' responsible for eliminating viruses and cancer cells," explains Dr. Passler. Before you reach for a bottle of orange juice, Dr. Bucci says that it would take an enormous amount of food for your body to feel the positive effects of vitamin C.
Instead, take it in a buffered form like a capsule. "You need to get 3000-6000 milligrams (mg) per day, and it needs to be in three separated doses (such as when first get up in the morning, during the afternoon and before bedtime), explains Dr. Bucci. Some people may experience stomach upset. If so, back off the dose to 2000-3000 mg daily, which almost all adults can handle."
3. ELDERBERRY JUICE
It might be a splurge and tough to find, but it can help ward off the flu. Dr. Bucci recommends taking it daily for its benefits to kick in.
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Ok, a mushroom isn't exactly the healthiest choice, but Dr. Passler says that eating them raw can increase your immune response. Even better: they don't even have to be fancy, like shiitake mushrooms.
The mineral has been known to reduce cold and flu symptoms. One way to get your fill is with a lozenge. "Look for zinc acetate as the type of zinc, and in a non-sugar, non-citrus flavor tablet that melts in your mouth slowly - those two ingredients block zinc, and other zinc forms (like zinc oxide, citrate, etc.) simply cannot work like zinc acetate," says Dr. Bucci. "Glucose, not sugar is a better way to flavor zinc lozenges. A zinc lozenge with 5mg zinc every 3-4 hours can help prevent some colds if caught early enough or at least make them not as severe or not as long."
If you want to up your intake of zinc-rich foods, Zuckerbrot recommends oysters, lamb, and beef, and spinach.
Zuckerbrot says that ginger is known to have anti-inflammatory properties. Not sure how to incorporate it into your diet? Dr. Passler recommends adding it to carrot juice. "The carrots contain Vitamin A, which increases the activity of white blood cells responsible for killing viruses, and the ginger increases circulation and improves immune response," he says.