food medicine

This time of year is an immune system’s nightmare – coughing, sneezing, fever, chills, exhaustion – yep, it’s flu season. If you feel the onset of these dreaded symptoms, take a look at what’s in your kitchen before getting shot up with a vaccine. If you find lots of salty chips and sugary cookies, your sick coworker’s germs may not be the blame; the saying is true: You are what you eat. Processed foods stripped of sustenance will leave you run down and defenseless, while fresh, nutritious fare results in an energized, resilient body.

Save the tissue for wrapping presents – here are the top 5 foods you should be eating for a healthy holiday season.

1. Garlic
Garlic is more than just a tasty additive to savory dishes and vampire (or bad date) defense – it has some impressive antioxidant properties. It’s trademark odor is the result of an oily, sulfurous substance called allicin, which can help prevent and shorten the duration of infections when used daily in cooking or taken as a supplement. Garlic is most potent when eaten fresh, so add it into your food after heating it – but be sure to warn anyone before they get within range of your breath!

2. Green Tea
People who prefer hot green tea in the morning to a cup ‘o Joe are getting more than just a smoother energy boost. This earthy beverage is also high in bacteria-fighting antioxidants and an immune-boosting chemical called epigallocatechin gallate. Enjoying a few cups a day will keep away free radicals and soothe the entire body. If you want to stay clear of sniffles, have some nut-based milk (like almond), as dairy milk can stir up mucus.

3. Ginger
This spicy root brings a lovely zest to many meals but turns nasty when it meets a virus due to a natural compound called gingerol. Shave it into recipes that need a little spice (delicious on vegetables), or skip the caffeine and make a fresh tea with grated ginger and boiling water. Avoid pairing it with sugar – as yummy as they taste together, sugar depletes the immune system and is a flu’s favorite snack.

4. Sweet Potatoes
Next time you spot sweet potato fries on a menu, opt for them instead of traditional pomme frites. Or get creative and add this sugary yam to any fall/winter dish to feed your tastebuds and your cells. Sweet potatoes get their fun orange color and nutritional boost from beta carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the body and can aid in the treatment of respiratory infections and neutralize toxins.

5. Red Bell Peppers
Whether you enjoy them grilled, pan fried, roosted or raw, load up on red bell peppers to combat disease. These sweet and crunchy vegetable-like fruits have twice as much vitamin C as oranges, a nutrient that has been shown to not only prevent, but decrease the duration of sickness and reduce the severity of the symptoms. Chop ‘em up into salads, add into pasta sauce, or dip uncooked in hummus – you’ll get more than enough nutrition if you have half a cup a day.

Want more on your plate? Check out these flu-busting articles:

Image: Anita Sarkeesian