The Secret Weapon Against Flu? Your Own Body
A new spin on an old saying is “starve a cold, feed the gut” — an approach that may help keep flu at bay.
While vaccination remains the best defense against influenza, nutrition is important too — and foods you may already have on hand can offer your immune system a healthy kick.
Emily Clairmont, clinical dietician in Culinary Medicine at University of Vermont Medical Center, reminds us that “food is medicine” and that research indicates “as much as 70% of immunity is in the gut.” It’s important to fuel your immune system with supportive nutrients because it is your body's natural defense system that helps fight infections by attacking germs that cause disease, she explains. Your immune system is also essential for triggering a healing response within damaged tissues and cells.
Clairmont shares how to improve your gastrointestinal health to boost immunity and stay ahead of flu and other illnesses:
- Eat a balanced diet with a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Snack on antioxidant-rich, brightly colored fruits and veggies (think oranges, berries, peppers).
- Pop a few pumpkin seeds for extra zinc.
- Enjoy gut-friendly probiotics like yogurt.
- Consider taking a multivitamin .
“Vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients – found in plant-based foods – are supportive of the immune system,” Clairmont explains.
In fact, vegetables, including the starchy root variety, provide an abundance of nutrients your body uses to produce energy, repair tissues and support the immune system. Vegetables’ dietary fiber is food for the trillions of healthy bacteria living in your digestive tract. Whether you’re aware of it or not, these bacteria are essential and help you digest and absorb essential nutrients.
The colors, flavors and aromas you experience with vegetables and all plant foods are nutrients, too. Thousands of these compounds, known as phytonutrients, have important roles in helping your immune system be as strong as it can be.
Ready to put your new nutritional knowledge into practice? Clairmont shares her favorite immune-boosting rainbow latkes and UVM Medical Center Chef Leah Pryor shares her go-to chicken soup recipe.
Rainbow Root Vegetable Latkes
- 1 lb. assorted root vegetables (turnips, sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, rutabagas, beets)
- 1/2 lb. Yukon gold potatoes
- 1 bunch chives, thinly sliced
- 2 large eggs
- 1/3 cup rice flour
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 4 to 6 tablespoons avocado or grapeseed oil
- Peel and coarsely shred the root vegetables and potatoes (about 3 ½ cups, packed, combined) in a food processor fitted with a shredding disk. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
- Add half of the chives, eggs, rice flour, salt and pepper, and mix well.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in large skillet over medium heat.
- Use a ¼ cup measure to drop mounds of the vegetable mixture into the skillet and flatten them to a 4-inch round. Cook until the bottoms are golden brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. Turn and brown on the other side, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Transfer onto a rack in a warm oven to hold until serving. Repeat with the remaining until all the mixture is used, adding oil as needed.
- Top with serving of a probiotic-rich yogurt and sprinkle with the remaining diced chives.
Turmeric-Ginger Chicken Soup
Chicken soup is great for hydration and electrolytes (salt), as well as immune-boosting protein and zinc (from the chicken), vitamin C (from celery, onions, cilantro or parsley) and a variety of antioxidants, depending on your preparation.
- 1 tablespoon grapeseed or other neutral oil
- 2 yellow onions, diced
- 2 carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 stalks of celery, diced
- 4 medium cloves of garlic, chopped
- 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
- 1 tablespoon turmeric (dried or peeled, sliced fresh if available)
- 1 ½ quarts chicken stock
- 3 cups cooked chicken, shredded
- 4 plum tomatoes, diced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
- In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, heat oil until shimmering.
- Add onions, carrots, celery, garlic, ginger and turmeric.
- Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
- Add chicken stock and simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes.
- Add shredded chicken and diced tomatoes.
- Reduce heat and simmer for another 15 minutes.
- Season to taste and add cilantro right before serving.