5 Surprising Immunity Boosting Foods for Cold and Flu Season

Megan O. Steintrager

Glazed Pearl Onions and GrapesAccording to the CDC's weekly FluView report, "flu activity continues to increase in parts of the United States." Additionally, my super-scientific Sneezers on the Subway observations indicate that colds are also on the rise. And while the CDC stresses that the best ways to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated against it and wash your hands properly, there's evidence that certain foods can help boost immunity and might help ward off colds and the flu. Here are a few you might not know about:

Organic, Whole Milk: The findings of a just-released study on organic milk and fatty acid composition, published in the reputable peer-reviewed journal PLOS one, indicate that organic milk contains a better balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids than conventional milk. And omega-3s have been linked to tons of benefits, including boosting immunity by increasing the activity of phagocytes, "cells that fight flu by eating up bacteria," says Prevention. You'll also get the most omega-3s from whole, rather than skim, milk though you'll have to weigh whether the extra total fat and calories are worth it to you.

Pickled Turnips: "Scientists have discovered that eating a traditional Japanese pickle could have 'protective effects' in preventing people from catching the flu," according to The Independent's recent article on the immunity boosting properties of a friendly bacteria in the pickles called suguki. If you can't find suguki, consider adding sauerkraut and kimchi to your menu -- the lacto-fermentation process by which these and some other traditional pickled products are made produces probiotics (those good-for-you bugs most associated with yogurt).

Red Grapes and Blueberries: These fruits may have "a significant benefit for immunity," according to a New York Daily News article reporting on an Oregon State University study. "Findings published in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research showed that two compounds, resveratrol found in red grapes and pterostilbene found in blueberries, when combined with vitamin D, could boost the bodys ability to fend off illness." (Findings of a separate study, published in BMJ, linked blueberries, grapes, and apples to reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.)

Golden Kiwifruit: You might want to keep your eyes open in exotic fruit section of the grocery store for this sweet, yellow-fleshed kiwi, as a small study (funded by a fruit exporter, so take it with a grain of salt), suggested that this fruit could help with congestion and sore throats. (See The New Zealand Herald's "gold kiwifruit 'wonder drug' for colds" for more.) But if you can't find the gold kiwis, don't worry: Regularkiwi is an excellent source of vitamin C.

"Five a Day": While many studies have drawn associations between certain nutrients (e.g. vitamin C or E) and increased immunity, the article Healthy Diet Fights Infection by Boosting Immune System from the Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter cites a study in which participants who increased their produce consumption from two to five servings per day of any fruit and vegetable saw increased immunity. Yet another reason to eat a balanced diet filled with whatever fruits and vegetables you love.

For more immunity boosters, see Six Foods that Fight the Flu for recommendations such as salmon, yogurt, and chiles from John La Puma, M.D., the author of Chef MD's Big Book of Culinary Medicine, and the new book Refuel.

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