Quick Ideas for Super Foods to Fight the Flu

January 22, 2010

Now that it's cold and flu season, it's important to find ways to minimize risk of catching and spreading illness. The CDC recommends several ways to reduce the risk of flu, including hand washing and proper cleaning methods. In addition to proper hand hygiene and cleaning for infection control, it helps for us to eat well and stay in good health so we're better prepared to fight off a flu bug.

Today we have a guest blog from chef David Blackmon, the career cluster manager of the hospitality and culinary arts program in Chicago Public Schools. (The students in this program have the opportunity to participate in HSC's Cooking up Change healthy cooking contest.) In this post, chef Blackmon offers insight on immune system-boosting foods to make this a flu-free winter.

by David Blackmon

With
all this talk about the swine flu, or H1N1 as the Center for Disease
Control terms it, plaguing the world, let’s take a look at these super
foods that contain flu-fighting elements. Eating right is a way to
maintain a healthy life. It helps keep your resistance levels high to
defend your body from cold and flu viruses.

 
Chicken Soup

Medical
research studies have found that chicken soup has mild
anti-inflammatory properties, which may help prevent colds and flu by
decreasing mucus production, throat swelling and irritation (so you
might be spared the sniffles or sore throat associated with colds).
When you make your next batch of soup, load up on the veggies like
onion, sweet potato, turnips, parsnips, carrots, celery and parsley.

Red Peppers

Pound for pound, red bell peppers have twice as much immune-enhancing vitamin
C as an orange. Vitamin C is an essential weapon in your flu-fighting
food arsenal. It can decrease the duration of a cold by 80 percent and
the severity of symptoms like sniffles and cough. Eat red bell peppers
chopped up in omelets or on sandwiches. Or, for a quick spaghetti
sauce, saute chopped red bell peppers, garlic and olive oil until
tender. Puree and drizzle over your favorite whole-wheat pasta.

Yogurt

Yogurt
contains good bacteria that line our intestines and defend our body
against invading germs called probiotics. Buy plain yogurt to get fewer
calories and less added sugar than you do from fruit-flavored versions,
and add your own sweetness with a teaspoon of honey (which may also be
an immune booster, because it feeds good bacteria in our gut). To make
sure your yogurt contains probiotics, look on the container for the
National Yogurt Association's “Live and Active Cultures” seal, which
means there are at least two types of healthy bacteria and 100 million
bacteria per gram.

Green Tea

Green tea contains
an immune-boosting chemical called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). To
get the most health benefits from this hot drink, steep tea in boiling
water for about 4 minutes. You can change up the flavor by steeping tea
with a 1-inch chunk of fresh ginger, fresh mint leaves, a twist of
orange peel or a cinnamon stick. Aim to drink 3 cups (24 ounces) or
more per day.

Almonds

Almonds are an excellent
source of the disease-fighting antioxidant vitamin E. Aim to have 24
almonds (1 ounce) per day as a snack; use chopped almonds on oatmeal,
salads or stir-fries; or try this recipe for sugar-and-spice almonds:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lay raw (unsalted) almonds on a cookie
sheet, spray with cooking spray, and sprinkle with brown sugar and a
pinch of cayenne. Bake for 6 minutes, cool and enjoy.


Brazil nuts

Brazil
nuts contain selenium, an antioxidant that may help protect us against
conditions such as colds, flu and even cancer. But be careful: These
nuts are rich in selenium (they have about 10 times more than other
foods), but they're also high in calories — 190 calories per 7 nuts.
Here's a portion-control tip: Buy the nuts in the shell. Using a nut
cracker slows you down, so you'll probably eat fewer nuts. If you're
not into nuts, you can get your selenium from tuna, beef or turkey; all
are good sources of this mineral.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet
potatoes' beta carotene content makes them an immune-enhancing food.
Beta carotene is the vitamin that gives sweet potatoes their orange
pigment. In the body, beta carotene is converted to vitamin A, which
research suggests may be particularly helpful in the treatment of
respiratory infections. For a quick sweet-potato side dish, grate the
potatoes with a cheese grater, into a skillet sprayed with cooking
spray (shredded sweet potatoes cook much faster than whole potatoes).
Season the potato with salt, pepper and cumin. Cook without stirring
for 5 minutes (until brown), and then flip it and cook the other side
for an additional 5 minutes.

Garlic

The sulfur
compounds found in garlic can make you 2.5 times less likely to get
sick during the flu season. These compounds have been shown to kill
viruses. Fresh garlic has more immune-boosting potential than cooked,
so add a clove of fresh minced garlic at the end of cooking. Try this
healthy version of fresh garlic bread: Toast sliced bread and rub with
fresh garlic cloves.

Ginger

Ginger contains
gingerol, a natural plant compound that can help fight off infection.
Put a 1-inch chunk of the spicy root into a cup of boiling water to
make ginger tea, or make fresh ginger vinaigrette to top raw or cooked
vegetables. Here's how: Mix 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons
vinegar, 1 teaspoon grated ginger and 1 teaspoon sugar.

Oysters

Oysters
contain more zinc than any other food. Zinc is a mineral that keeps our
immune system strong. Eating just three oysters gets you the daily
recommendation for zinc. Since oysters may be difficult to include in
your diet regularly, the following foods can also help you get your
zinc: breakfast cereals fortified with zinc; baked beans; or pumpkin
seeds.

Thanks to chef Blackmon for this guest post! If you enjoyed these ideas, check out his All-Star Quesadillas and Salsa on HSC's blog.