It’s getting to be that time of year — leaves change colors, wardrobes make a dramatic shift into warmer apparel and people start sneezing next to you in line for coffee. Yep, cold and flu season has begun.
The common cold affects adults an average of two to three times per year, usually lasting between seven and 10 days each time, according to the CDC. Colds tend to hit in winter and spring, overlapping with the long October to May flu season. Anywhere from 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu each year, which can result in hospitalization and even death in severe cases.
While you may not always be able to escape from a cold or flu, the following foods and nutrients can boost your immune system to help prevent or fight these illnesses.
This one’s a no-brainer. Most often linked with citrus fruits, the antioxidant vitamin C has been shown to reduce cold symptoms by over 20%. Tired of drinking orange juice? High concentrations of vitamin C are found in bell peppers, broccoli, papaya, pineapple and Brussels sprouts, to name a few food options.
Dark, leafy greens feature an array of vitamins that can help our bodies fight off cold and flu viruses. From folate to calcium to vitamin A, greens like kale, endive and arugula are top-notch choices for preventative protection, according to Health.com.
Widely found in seafood, such as tuna, shrimp and salmon, selenium boosts your immune system to help fight the flu. Research has shown that flu viruses in the bodies of people deficient in this mineral can become more dangerous than they otherwise would be, says Prevention.com.
From shiitake to Portobello, mushrooms contain a variety of vitamins and antioxidants that can improve your immune system. In addition, they help produce cytokines, which are cells that fight infections within the body. Not bad for some fungus!
Sweet lovers, rejoice. Unbeknownst to many, cocoa is loaded with zinc and other disease-fighting antioxidants, according to Health.com. So next time you want to shore up your immune system with a little treat, grab a few squares of rich dark chocolate — the higher the cocoa content, the better.
Foods that are naturally orange in color, such as butternut squash, carrots and sweet potatoes, are bursting with beta-carotene. Our bodies turn beta-carotene into the all-important vitamin A, which helps protect our immune systems from unwanted bacteria and microorganisms, among other critical functions.