Foods That Fight Flu

The Fall Harvest is full of immune-boosters.

Foods that fight flu

Photo: V Ridgeway


“Mom, I don’t feel so good.” You probably dread hearing those words as we head into flu and cold season. Luckily, nature has given us a way to fight off the ills of the season. It’s called the fall harvest, and it provides us with immune-boosting vegetables to prepare our families against the onslaught of flu and cold bugs.

You can help protect your family by filling them with these nutrients found in harvested foods:

Beta-carotene. This orange-red pigmented nutrient is found in brightly coloured vegetables and fruit including carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squash and tomatoes. Beta-carotene is converted by the body into Vitamin A as needed. Both beta carotene and Vitamin A boost the immune system, helping it to respond quickly to invading viruses and bacteria. Recent studies suggest that beta carotene and Vitamin A are best obtained from food sources rather than supplements because of the dangers of toxicity.

Tomatoes have double the immune-boosting effect because they contain another carotene as well called lycopene. Interestingly enough, this wonderful nutrient is even more available when tomatoes are heated or cooked. So adding some tomatoes to roasted, steamed or sautéed fall vegetables both enhances the flavour and gives our immune system a giant boost.

Vitamin C. Well known for its immune enhancing properties, Vitamin C is highly recommended for preventing colds and flus. Not only does it increase the number of cells that fight invading viruses, but it also enhances the production of interferon – a substance that prevents the spread of viruses from one cell to another. Dark green veggies such as spinach, kale, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and peppers contain Vitamin C (as well as beta-carotene). Potatoes too, when cooked with the skin on, provide extra Vitamin C.

Zinc. If your diet lacks zinc, your immune system will be weakened. Zinc helps boost the immune response and prevent infections – that’s why it is often added to lozenges to help treat sore throats. Food sources for zinc are lentils and chick peas, peas, pumpkin, sesame seeds, ginger root, and turkey. Again, it’s best to stay away from supplements because of danger of toxicity.

Vitamin E. This vitamin enhances the production of antibody- producing cells and natural 

killer cells which protect us from invading germs. Good sources include vegetable oils, and sunflower and pumpkin seeds. While nuts are often prohibited at schools due to the possibility of severe allergies, sunflower and pumpkin seeds are usually acceptable and make a tasty snack for youngsters.

Garlic: Many articles have been written about the antibacterial properties of garlic, but it also contains substances that enhance the response of the immune system to invading viruses and bacteria. The mature garlic harvested in late summer and early fall is rich in these properties and the bulbs will last in storage for a few months. Steaming or baking garlic makes them taste sweeter and more palatable for young children. Cooking them in soups or stews will likewise mellow the flavour. A surprising number of young children enjoy the taste of hummus – a good way to get chick peas and garlic into them. Hummus makes a nice dip for raw veggies or rice chips.

Exotic mushrooms. There has been a lot of excitement in the last few years about the immune-boosting abilities of some exotic mushrooms – like reishi and shitake. But even the lowly button mushroom has been found to have these positive effects. Adding raw or cooked button mushrooms to your child’s diet on a regular basis will have a very positive effect on her overall health.

Building up kids’ immunity

It’s clear that the fall harvest offers many good nutrients to boost our families’ resistance to flu and cold bugs. So take advantage by putting harvest vegetables on your family’s plate as often as possible.

If roasted or steamed vegetables don’t appeal to your kids, try making stews with these marvellous vegetables. For picky eaters, try cooking and pureeing vegetables into a palatable lunchtime soup. Squash and sweet potato puree with a little apple and ginger mixed in makes a great tasting, highly nutritious lunch for kids to take to school in a thermos. A mix of cooked broccoli, kale and mushrooms pureed with chicken broth and a little cooked garlic is another kid-friendly option.

So enjoy our colourful fall harvest – not just for the wonderful flavours, but also for the great benefits to our immune system.

Author: Dr. Mary Welch

Dr. Mary Welch is a naturopath and chirporactor at Circle of Life Wellness Centre in Peterborough.

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