You've probably heard that orange juice and chicken soup can help kick a cold or combat the flu, but there are less obvious (and more appetizing) mealtime choices that help an ailing immune system. Below are five surprising foods that you might want to toss in your shopping cart the next time you feel a tickle in your throat.
Many yogurts and almost all kefir, a fermented milk product, contain probiotics, the so-called "good" bacteria. These bacteria alter how the immune system in the digestive tract reacts to microorganisms. Studies have found that probiotics can help with diarrhea and other intestinal disorders. Although more research is needed, probiotics may also help reduce the severity of colds and the flu, according to the Mayo Clinic. Opt for the yogurt and kefir that contain live and active probiotics to make sure you're reaping the benefits of these miracle-workers.
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A hot cup of tea can help soothe a sore throat and lift spirits, but green and black teas are also a good source of polyphenols, or plant antioxidants, that can help prevent free radical damage in the body. In the lab, compounds in green tea have been shown to inhibit viral replication, which may aid in defending against cold and flu. In addition, a Harvard study found that people who drank five cups of black tea had elevated levels of a compound that can help ward off infections like viruses. The benefits also pertain to decaf black and green teas, so you don't have to over-caffeinate while loading up on the good stuff.
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Garlic is indispensible in the kitchen but has recently received widespread attention for its potential in disease-prevention and immune-boosting properties. Although some of the claims are certainly oversold, garlic has shown some promise when it comes to warding off infections. It's believed that the sulfur-containing compound allicin could function as an antibacterial and antiviral agent. In one study, British researchers found that people who took a garlic supplement regularly were two-thirds less likely to catch a cold than those who took a placebo. The best way to reap garlic's benefits, however, is consuming it raw or freshly processed.
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Pumpkins, sweet potatoes, squash, and other orange-fleshed vegetables are high in beta carotene, which the body uses to make Vitamin A. A diet low in beta carotene can suppress the immune system, so stocking up on these fall veggies is a great way to ensure your body has the nutrients it needs. Vitamin A also is important in keeping the skin healthy, which is our body's first line of defense against disease-causing microorganisms.
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Oysters are definitely not the first thing that comes to mind when a cold or other illness strikes, but the bivalves are a great source of zinc, among other good-for-you nutrients like omega-3s, selenium, and iron. Zinc is important in the development of white blood cells and even a low-to-moderate level of zinc deficiencies can have negative implications for the immune system. Of course, there can be too much of a good thing however: too much zinc can have an adverse effect and inhibit the immune system. Therefore, it's best to get zinc from a well-rounded diet. In addition to oysters, beef and chicken are good sources.
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