While I was growing up my mamá and abuelita relied on a repertoire of food-based home remedies whenever one of us was sick. There was the home-made jarabe (cough syrup) that consisted of honey, onion and watercress. There was a variety of tésesitos (teas) for ailments- tilo for nerves, peppermint for tummy aches – and then there were the preventatives, like a daily dose of cod liver oil. I can still taste it!
Like mamá, abuelita and generations of Latinas before them, I am a firm believer in home remedies and preventative dietary measures. On the rare occasion that I do get a cold, I prefer what nature has to offer as opposed to what is on the shelf at my local pharmacy. So to avoid this seasons colds and flus I am integrating the food based measures offered by Roufia Payman, the director of outpatient nutritional services at Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck, NY.
Here’s a list of top immunity-boosting foods for optimum healing and wellness:
NOTHING BEATS CHICKEN SOUP
Grandma was right – nothing beats chicken soup for fending off sniffles. Not only does it provide the fluids needed to help fight off viruses, it’s a powerful mucus stimulant so it helps clear nasal congestion as well as thin mucus. It’s also thought to have a mild anti-inflammatory effect than can help ease cold symptoms. Keep some organic chicken stock on hand, because studies have found that even commercial soup is as effective as homemade.
USE FLAVORFUL HEALERS
If you want to punch up the healing power of your chicken soup – or any other dish – add plenty of garlic and onions. When combined, these flavorful healers contain numerous antiseptic and immunity boosting compounds. As an added plus, garlic helps to open clogged sinuses.
‘SRHOOM IT AWAY
No herbal medicine cabinet should be without mushrooms. They increase the production of cytokines, which are cells that help fight off infection. They also contain polysaccharides, which are compounds that support the immune system. The most potent cold- and flu-fighting ‘shrooms are shitake, maitake and reishi.
“C” IS FOR CITRUS
Citrus fruits contain hefty doses of powerhouse vitamin C. Studies have found that this antioxidant can reduce cold symptoms by 23 percent, and all that’s needed is just one to eight grams (1,000 to 8,000 milligrams) to do the trick. Besides citrus fruits, other foods that have high amounts of vitamin C include papaya, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, tomatoes, broccoli, brussel sprouts and red bell peppers.
Studies have shown that eating a cup of low-fat yogurt each day can reduce your susceptibility to colds by 25 percent. The beneficial bacteria is Lactobacillus reuteri which has been found to block the replication of viruses that invade the body when we get sick. Not all brands have that particular bacteria, so check labels and be sure to go organic.
While yogurt is a great source of probiotics, some have more than others and we can really benefit by taking an additional supplement. Other immune-booster “musts” are vitamin D and Omega 3 fatty acid.
SIP WHEN YOU’RE SICK
Hot tea is soothing and a great home remedy, helping to thin mucus and ensure proper hydration. For added health benefit, sip green or black tea – both are filled with flavonoids, which are potent antioxidants.
Ginger comes to the aid when we’re sick in some powerful ways. Besides soothing a scratchy throat, it has chemicals called sesquiterpenes that target rhinoviruses – which are the most common family of cold viruses – as well as substances that help suppress coughing. Ginger is also a natural pain and fever reducer and a mild sedative so you’ll feel more comfortable and be able to rest easier. Add a couple of tablespoons of shredded gingerroot to your tea, or make ginger tea (it comes in tea bags, but you can also simmer fresh sliced ginger to make a potent brew).
HONEY OF A CURE
Honey has numerous medicinal properties and because it coats your throat it is a natural way to soothe sore throats. It also has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties to help fight infections from viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Skip the common clover honey that you’ll find in the supermarket as it has the lowest antioxidant level. Look for buckwheat honey, which has the highest. (A note of caution: never give honey to children under one years of age because their immune systems are not developed enough to ward off infantile botulism, which is carried in honey spores.)
It’s ironic that black pepper – the spice best known for making you sneeze – can ward off the sniffles. Black peppercorns are high in piperine, a compound known for its anti-fever and pain-relieving qualities.
SPICE IT UP
Make recipes more flavorful with garlic, thyme, rosemary, sage and oregano – while spicing things up, you’ll also get an added kick of immune-busters, too.