Brace yourselves the cold and flu season is here. While many of us are rolling up our sleeves for the yearly flu shot, Jennifer Baer, a Toronto naturopath and nutritionist believes that eating these five foods can strengthen the immune system and keep you flu-free.
Garlic has antimicrobial, antiviral and antibiotic properties which makes this spice an important ally against the cold and flu. “As long as it agrees with you, chop up 1-2 cloves of raw garlic and mix with a teaspoon of honey,” Baer says. “The garlic must be fresh, not cooked, to maintain its antimicrobial effect.
Onions are very important this time of year Baer explains. The superfood contains phytochemicals -disease preventive properties- and vital vitamins like A, B6, C and E. “Onions should also be consumed raw, for optimal benefits, she says.”
“This popular spice contains chemicals called sesquiterpenes that specifically target cold and flu viruses,” Baer explains. She recommends cutting up raw ginger and drinking it in hot water as a tea. “This spice can soothe a sore throat and serve as a sedative which can help with sleep.”
4. Fruits and Vegetables:
Fruits and veggies with bright colours like dark greens, purples, oranges and reds have the most nutritional value and should be consumed this time of year. “Kale and blueberries, for example, are full of phytonutrients, which fight off infections and keep you from getting sick.”
5. Naturally Fermented Foods:
Baer explains that when a food is fermented it means that it’s left to sit and steep until the sugars and carbs become bacteria-boosting agents. Some examples of fermented foods include unpasteurized miso made from fermented soybeans, yogurt, kefir, and drinks like kombucha -which is fermented tea with yeast and bacteria. These foods are rich in probiotics, healthy bacteria that help the digestive tract and maintain a strong immune system.
For those who regularly consume Kombucha, Baer advises against sweetened versions, “sugar actually depresses the immune system.”
“Garlic, onions and ginger won’t cost you much and you can go to your local market to buy some great fruits and vegetables,” Baer says. She adds that naturally fermented foods cost a little more but “it’s all about budgeting.”
Davina Lal is a recent grad from York University. She says she will include Baer’s list of superfoods as part of her cold-and-flu fighting plan. “I am notorious for getting sick even with the flu shot… I don’t think I’m eating the right foods,” she says,“ I will definitely include these food items in my diet.”
Ara Wiseman is a Toronto nutrition expert and author who specializes in disease prevention. She says that investing in immune-boosting food doesn’t have to be time-consuming.
Try making a soup:
Wiseman believes that students and young professionals, in particular, are prone to getting sick because of poor eating habits, stress and lack of sleep.
She says that making a healthy, inexpensive soup of onions, garlic, ginger, turmeric and a medley of bright vegetables is a quick and easy way for the body to absorb all of the important vitamins and nutrients.
“But chop fresh garlic every time you pour yourself a bowl,” she says.
Turmeric has been tooted for centuries for its health benefits. Wiseman says that this spice has anti-inflammatory properties and is an antioxidant which helps strengthen the body to ward off viruses.
“Add a little black pepper to increase the bioavailability of the active compound turmeric, curcumin,” Wiseman advises.
Curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric, and adding black pepper can improve the absorption of curcumin.
What does the family doctor say?
When it comes to cold and flu remedies, Dr. Alvin Chen, a Scarborough family doctor says there is no evidence that these foods can prevent or fight off the cold and flu virus.
“Consuming foods, like the ones you mentioned, may lessen the symptoms associated with colds and flus but they can’t prevent or fight off the virus.”
Chen explains that the flu vaccine lowers one’s likelihood of getting sick by building the body’s immunity. “The vaccine is preventative.”
The presence of the virus from the vaccine tells the immune system to produce antibodies to fight off the particular strain of flu.
The Scarborough doctor believes that you can’t catch the flu from the flu shot. “That is a myth and this claim should not deter people from getting vaccinated…those who have gotten sick right after getting the shot were likely already infected,” he says.
Although Chen believes that the flu shot is the most useful way to fight the flu, he also believes that a healthy diet rich in vitamins in minerals is important for one’s overall health.
The family doctor lists some easy ways to avoid spreading cold and flu-causing germs;
- Wash hands regularly
- Stay home from school or work when sick
- Cover mouths when coughing and sneezing
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and shared items
- Avoid touching your face – wash hands first.
- Maintain a healthy diet.
The naturopathic expert, Jennifer Baer, disagrees with Dr. Chen’s claim about food being unable to prevent illnesses like colds and flus. Baer believes that eating foods like the ones mentioned in the list can strengthen the immune system, prevent or reduce the duration, or the severity of illness.
According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S, the 2016-2017 Flu Vaccine Effectiveness score was 42, which means it worked 42% of the time.
“It is very hard to get accurate data on rates of influenza in vaccinated versus unvaccinated individuals however, the point is that getting vaccinated does not preclude one from getting the flu.” Baer says.
The CDC in the U.S measures vaccine effectiveness in flu vaccines. Its effectiveness score is determined by how well the vaccine prevents doctor’s visits or hospitalization in those with lab-confirmed cases of influenza.
Baer says whether someone chooses to get vaccinated or not, it’s important to take other preventative health measures like eating foods mentioned on her list.
“Avoid refined, processed foods, sugary drinks or sweets and fast foods…focus on a more natural, whole food diet,” she says. “In doing so, you can reduce inflammation, strengthen the immune system and support your microbiome, the healthy bugs in your gut.
We can all agree that no one likes being sick so speak to a healthcare practitioner, you feel comfortable with, to discuss ways to stay flu-free this season.