Fend off all that the cold season fires at you with these 7 flu-fighting foods with immunity boosting secret ingredients…
Chicken soup, hot lemon drinks and plenty of vitamin C. They’re the hand-me-down prescriptions for fighting off the cold and flu bugs that take hold as the seasons change. They’ve been the defence against viral infections for years – and since we’re all still having to dodge the germs and sniffles every year, there’s ample proof that they don’t really work.
So why not stock up on feeds that do fight flu and combat cold. Ones that science has seen in action and experts can vouch for when it comes to handing out the medal for gallantry.
1. Fermented Dairy
“One of the better sources of glutamine which is used as a fuel for the gut and also contains probiotics,” says Price. Research from the Gazi University in Ankara, Turkey and the Clinical Epidemiology Center at Jalisco, Mexico has highlighted the benefits supplementing diet with glutamine for strengthening the immune system. “Together they improve gut health, the biggest component in the immune system – interestingly cabbage is also a decent vegetable source of glutamine and is also fermented by several cultures into probiotic products such as kimchi and sauerkraut.”
Take: Kefir – Healthy gut microbes are a plenty in this type of milk, ideally add 500ml to a post run smoothie.
“They contain a great range of immune-regulating properties and also antibacterial/viral properties as well as B vitamins and selenium,” explains Price.
US studies have also highlighted how their antioxidant components can help cells in the body ward off damage from free radicals – which can run rife after you’ve been running or riding. The research from Penn State University measured the antioxidant armoury in several kinds of mushrooms – including the common white button ones, crimini, portabella, shiitake and oyster mushrooms.
The results revealed that white button mushrooms not only packed more punch in the antioxidant department than the poncier ones – but that they contain more antioxidants than tomatoes, green peppers, pumpkins, carrots or green beans.
Take: 140 grams of button mushrooms (thinly sliced) in a garlic-bean salad with chorizo, using cannellini beans, a purple onion a little red wine vinegar, parsley, olive oil and 100g of chorizo.
3. Cruciferous vegetables
“These contain a compound called ‘DIM’ (diindolylmethane) that has various antimicrobial and immune enhancing properties,” says Price. “The likes of broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage and bok choy also contain a range of other compounds that support the immune system and also detoxification.”
Australian research reported in the journal Nature Immunology found that crunchy greens could help controlling immune cells vital to a healthy digestive system. Proteins found in cruciferous vegetables support the genes that produce the cells that keep “bad” bacteria out of the intestine. They suggest that a regular intake of leafy green veg may even prevent conditions like bowel cancer, food allergy and inflammatory disease.
Take: Kale & Chard salad with a bunch of chopped kale, ruby chard, cooked wild rice, cucumber, peppers, spring onions and fennel – drizzled with olive oil, lemon juice and a little honey.
4. Manuka Honey
“This stuff has a pretty potent anti-bacterial/viral action,” says Price. “It’s been used in traditional medicine for years and is now being looked at by researchers in the light of increased antibiotic resistance.”
While much of the evidence on its cold-combating qualities are anecdotal, there’s little doubt that the real thing (beware of fake Manuka honey). University of Wales nutrition scientists have been looking at how the honey interacts with three types of bacteria that commonly infest wounds – including the dreaded MRSA – and found that Manuka can bazooka the growth of these bacteria, making it a sweet option for the treatment of drug-resistant wound infections.
Take: Simply stir a teaspoon of Manuka honey into your hot lemon drink to prevent the cold bug taking a grip.
5. Coconut Oil
“Lauric acid has anti-microbial properties that are already used in human nutrition such as in breast milk to fend off infection,” explains Price. “Coconut oil has also been shown to reduce inflammation which has a strong benefit for immune competence.”
The key component is the lauric acid – which doesn’t occur in many places but there’s a hearty does in coconut oil. The body converts this into monolaurin which can actually destroy lipid coated viruses influenza. The product has an additional benefit for athletes as it stokes up the thyroids to boost the metabolism and burn more fat.
Take: It’s ideal for cooking and works well at high temperatures – you could combine it with another Low-glycaemic index athlete’s favourite, sweet potatoes make oven-baked sweet potato chips brushed with coconut oil.
“A fine flu-fighting meal as curries usually contain a range of herbs and spices that improve immune function such as garlic and reduce inflammation – while the ginger and chilli components will stimulate the TRP V1 and TRP A1 receptors which help relieve the symptoms of a cold,” says Price.
Among the support for a reviving ‘Ruby Murray’ is a study by the University of Texas cancer research unit which found that phytochemicals derived from curry spices such as turmeric, chilli, cloves, ginger and cumin strengthen the immunes system whilst the Common Cold Research Unit at Cardiff also flags up curries for their ability to help created germ-crushing mucus. Nice.
Take: Salmon curry – the fish (well around 85g of it) packs a full day’s recommending filling of vitamin D, which helps keep the immune system in working order. Through in some goji berries which along with the coriander, cumin, garlic, chillies, ginger and turmeric will send the sniffles packing.
Not your off-the-shelf kids stuff that makes the milk turn chocolatey. No instead combine wheatgerm and oats (try pinhead ones) with yoghurt or porridge. And throw in some almonds too.
“Almonds are one of the best sources of Vitamin E around – Vitamin E is a very important nutrient for the immune system,” says Price. The wheatgerm is also a great source of vitamin E – along with folate and magnesium. Pinhead oats are home to beta-glucan fibre which according to research published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine can reduce respiratory infections too.
Take: Begin the day during the flu season with a combination of chopped almonds on top of cereal or porridge – and look to add a tablespoon or two of wheatgerm to smoothies boost their impact on your immunity.
Multipower Sportsfood registered nutritionist and strength and conditioning coach.
Words: Rob Kemp Images: Shutterstock