Like many others, I try different methods to avoid catching a cold or flu during the winter months. Despite my best efforts, I often get a little “under the weather” during the month of January. This year I’ve decided to work on ways to boost my immune system before the worst part of the cold and flu season hits.
“One thing to remember is that simple diet choices can boost our immune system,” said Susan Mills-Gray, Nutrition and Health Education specialist with University of Missouri Extension.
Here are a variety of ways to help your immune system to work at peak performance.
• Get plenty of liquids to help prevent viruses and bacteria from taking up residence in your body.
According to Dr. Riva Rahl of the Cooper Clinic in Dallas: “The mucus in your nose is actually one of the key physical barriers that keep germs out of your body. When you’re not well-hydrated, it dries up and doesn’t provide that barrier.”
• Protein is a building block for a healthy immune system. Choose lean red meats, poultry and fish, dried beans and soy. You also can choose protein-rich plant sources with heart-healthy fat, like peanut butter and nuts.
• Choose foods rich in vitamins C and E. These antioxidant-rich vitamins protect cells — including those of your immune system — from damage by toxins in the environment.
Choose citrus fruits/juices, melons, mangoes, kiwi, peppers, tomatoes, berries, broccoli, cabbage, sweet/white potatoes, winter squash, leafy greens, almonds, hazelnuts, peanut butter, sunflower seeds, safflower oil, whole grains and fortified cereals several times a day.
• Eat probiotic foods to help build up the good bacteria in the intestines. These bacteria play a role in helping fend off illnesses. Any fermented food is rich in this type of good bacteria, so choose yogurt, sauerkraut, tofu, brine-treated pickles and aged cheese at least daily.
• Add a zinc-rich food to your daily diet to increase production of white blood cells in your body. Research shows this can reduce the number of days you’ll suffer from a cold.
Foods rich in zinc include yogurt, lean red meat, poultry and fish, almonds, pumpkin seeds and fortified cereals.
Thai hot and sour soup contains spicy hot chile and a burst of citrus to provide a boost to your immune system and some relief for cold and flu symptoms.
1/4 pound small (30-35 count) shrimp, peeled and butterflied
2 ounces thin vermicelli noodles
1 stalk fresh lemon grass, cut into 2-inch pieces, smashed
1/4 cup Thai fish sauce (also called Nam Pla)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 small pickled or fresh jalapeno chile pepper, seeds and ribs removed
2 slices fresh ginger, chopped, or 1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/3 cup fresh, or drained canned straw mushrooms
1/4 cup chopped cilantro or parsley
2 green onions, green and white parts chopped, roots discarded
1. Bring a medium-sized pot of water to a boil. Add the shrimp and boil until cooked through, about 3 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the shrimp to colander. Rinse under cold water, drain and set the shrimp aside.
2. Cook the noodles in the same pot of boiling water until tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain, rinse under cold water and drain again. Set aside.
3. Combine the broth with the lemon grass, fish sauce, oil, red pepper flakes, lime zest, chile pepper and the ginger in a wok or soup pot. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Strain or use a slotted spoon to remove the lemon grass pieces. Stir in the lemon and lime juice.
4. Distribute the rice noodles, shrimp and mushrooms between 8 heated soup bowls. Pour in the broth and sprinkle with the cilantro or parsley and green onions evenly between each bowl, and serve. Makes 8 servings.
Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children’s author, culinary historian and author of seven cookbooks. Her website is www.divapro.com.