You succumbed to a series of bad colds last winter and – although you caught up on Gossip Girl – you’ve vowed to avoid a similar fate this year. You’re in dire need of some nutritional TLC to stave off the familiar collapse. “To keep your immune system ready to go – and strengthen it when you’re feeling sick – you need to get enough vitamins and minerals, which act as links in your disease-fighting chain,” explains Nina Hirvi, a clinical dietitian at the Copeman Healthcare Centre in Vancouver.
The allium family is to colds what the Soprano family is to snitches: an eliminator. Stock up on immune-boosting garlic, onions and leeks (and maybe some breath mints). You’ll also need seven to 10 servings of fruits and veggies every day – they contain vitamin A (found in carrots, red peppers and sweet potatoes) and vitamin C (found in tomatoes, oranges and kiwi fruit), which help the body fight off viruses and bacteria, says Hirvi.
Zinc – which is found in red meats, poultry, beans, nuts and whole grains – is also essential to a healthy immune system because it bolsters the body’s resistance to infection. “Zinc may shorten the duration of a cold and protect against developing symptoms, like coughing,” explains Hirvi. Natural probiotics, such as yogourt and kefir, contain healthy bacteria, which help enhance immune function and reduce colds, allergies and hay fever. One daily serving (about one cup) can improve your gastrointestinal health by replacing “bad” bacteria with “good” bacteria.
Hirvi recommends getting your probiotic serving (such as plain yogourt topped with chopped walnuts and raspberries) at breakfast. Stick with lean protein (such as grilled beef) and veggies (such as spinach with a light oil-and-vinegar dressing) for lunch. For a healthy – and tasty – dinner, she suggests serving up salmon, broccoli, red peppers and one cup of sweet potato wedges baked in the oven with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
Throughout the day, sip hot ginger tea. Ginger is loaded with virus-fighting substances, including several that act directly on cold viruses. You can make your own ginger drink by steeping one tablespoon of fresh shredded ginger in boiling water for three minutes; strain the ginger out and add a squeeze or two of lemon. Then curl up on the couch with a celluloid Chuck Bass and call us in the morning.
What to avoid
Caffeine. It vacuums up fluids, boosting your risk of dehydration. “Caffeine increases blood flow in the kidneys and inhibits reabsorption of sodium and water,” explains Hirvi.
Get hands on and book a massage. A 2007 study at the University of Miami School of Medicine’s Touch Research Institute found that regular massages help the body produce more disease-fighting white blood cells while lowering blood pressure, reducing stress hormones and improving mood.
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