Everyone knows the first hint that things are about to go downhill. Maybe it’s a little tickle, or dryness in your throat, a headache or general feeling of being run down and not up for activity. Rather than let things go too far, start early and give your body the fuel it needs to help boost your immune system. A good variety of lean meats, colorful vegetables and a smattering of antioxidant-rich fruits can help you stave off that bug going around the office this winter.
It’s true that you can take vitamins, but what numerous studies have pointed out is it’s always better to get your nutrients naturally through a healthy diet. With that in mind, here are some of my favorite immune boosting meals, snacks and cheats.
To Help Boost your Immune System & Fight off Infection
Immune Boosting Elderberry Drops:
First, my favorite cheat is to keep a vial of elderberry drops on hand at all times. You can make your own drops from dried berries, or purchase a vial from your local health food store (way easier). I’m not usually one to embrace this type of “home remedy”, but just before leaving for a mountain biking trip to Arizona a couple of years ago I felt that familiar dry scratchy throat and run-down feeling coming on. A good friend recommended I get started on these drops right away, saying even if they didn’t help prevent the cold, it would be a lot more manageable. It worked! And since then I’ve kept a vial in my pantry on the ready and I haven’t suffered from a real cold in 2 years. YAY! One note: check with your physician, before adding any new supplements to your diet, those going through chemo treatment should note that elderberries are NOT recommended.
Take 21 drops 3 times a day while actively fighting off infection. You can take 21 drops twice a day to help maintain as desired. I personally only pull these out when I need them.
It’s raw, delicious and packed with healthy helpers, plus it’s super fast to make. Serve if with fresh cut veggies instead of chips and you’ve got a great boost of natural vitamins and nutrients. You can even add this to your favorite wraps, breakfast, or anything that could use a creamy flavor boost.
2 Hass avocados cubed
juice of 1 lime
1 fresh garlic clove minced
1 tablespoon finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 jalepano diced (optional if you don’t like heat)
salt to taste
Combine ingredients in a bowl and use a masher or fork to work into your desired texture. Serve immediately and if you have any left over, store covered with plastic wrap directly touching the top. Avocado will oxidize in open air, so be careful to cover it well before refrigerating. Will keep for up to one day well covered.
Antioxidant Blueberry Smoothie:
This is kind of a no-brainer. If you’re nursing the start of a sore throat, the cold smoothie will help soothe, while the ingredients can get to work helping to bolster your immune system. Blueberries are nature’s anti-oxidant champions and theses sweet-tart little gems are pretty tasty too. The flax and chia add omega-3s and fiber.
1 cup frozen wild blueberries (can’t get wild? Go with organic)
1 cup spinach, chopped
1 tablespoon Flax meal
2 tablespoons chia seeds
2 oranges, peeled
1 cup almond milk (or milk of your choice), add more as needed to achieve your preferred thickness
sweeten to taste with honey or your favorite low calorie sweetener (I like vanilla stevia drops)
Combine ingredients in your blender until smooth. This will thicken if left to stand thanks to the chia seeds and blueberries so serve immediately.
These nutrient-rich bivalves are an excellent source of zinc which helps boost the immune system naturally and vitamin B-12 which acts as a natural pick-me-up.
I like mine smoked, simply out of the can and onto a quality wheat cracker (who has the time or skill to shuck?!). The robust, savory flavor is balanced beautifully by the slightly nutty sweet flavor of the cracker. Creeped out by their wrinkly, other-worldly appearance? Might I suggest making a dip?
Smoked Oyster Dip:
1 3.75 oz. can of smokey oysters, drained
1 3 oz. package of cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
1-2 dashes of hot sauce, to taste
Chop oysters and combine with the rest of the ingredients. Chill at least one hour and serve with toast points or crackers.
For those of you who are up for the challenge of shucking… might I suggest broiled oysters? NOM.
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 garlic clove, minced
2.5 tbsp melted butter
12 oysters, freshly shucked and reserved on half shell with juices
salt & pepper to taste
Preheat broiler. Mix breadcrumbs, butter, garlic, salt and pepper and spoon equally over oysters. Broil until crumbs are toasty and golden (all broilers vary, so keep a close eye! This will go quickly!). Transfer oysters to plates and serve with lemon wedges.
Loaded with quality protein, amino acids, vitamin D, vitamin B-12 and omega-3’s this fish may help reduce inflammation and help you keep a clear head. Wild-caught is always best and generally salmon is at a much lower risk for containing high levels of mercury over other popular fish like tuna and swordfish.
Smoked Salmon Chowder:
Easy to prepare, this dreamy soup makes for a great pick-me-up loaded with omega-3’s.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 carrot peeled and sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 large yukon potato, diced
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/4 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups broth (vegetable or chicken)
2 cups milk
1/2 cup heavy cream (can substitute 1/4 cup flour mixed with your 2 cups milk instead to cut the fat content)
1/3 cup sherry
2 tablespoons green onion, chopped
8 oz. smoked salmon, flaked
Heat the olive oil and onion and garlic over low heat for about 2 minutes. Add the potato, carrot, celery, salt and pepper and cover over medium heat for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add broth and simmer until the potato is tender, add the tomato paste, milk and then the salmon, bring the mixture to a simmer (do not let this boil). Add in the cream and remove from heat and stir in sherry. Garnish with green onions and serve with a crusty bread. Serves 4-5.
When All Else Fails and You Find Yourself Ill, Foods to Help You Feel Better
So you’ve found yourself sick. Perhaps you’ve got body aches, a sore throat and runny nose. Drinking plenty of fluids is critical, adding in some easy-to-digest foods and natural anti-inflammatories can’t hurt either.
Apple Cider Vinegar Sore Throat Therapy:
Is there anything worse? It keeps you sucking on lozenges all day, sipping tea, and generally wincing at every swallow. Here are some therapies to help fight off this painful sick-day companion.
The natural acidity and anti-bacterial qualities of apple cider vinegar give throat cooties a run for their money by making the throat more alkaline. It also helps to loosen phlegm which will reduce pain and help you to swallow more comfortably. Finally, it contains some good, immune-boosting nutrients. Don’t forget to keep sipping water and tea throughout the day, the better hydrated you are, the better your body functions and fights infection.
mix 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar with 1/4 cup warm water, strip and gargle every hour until the pain dissipates.
Diluted Vinegar Drink:
Mix 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar with 1/2 cup of warm water. You can add a touch of honey to take the edge off. Drink like tea, every hour. (if you can tolerate it, consider decreasing the amount of water)
Ginger Tea for Digestion & Sore Throat
This spicy aromatic root, when steeped into a tea, can help clear your airway, soothe your tummy and reduce the discomfort of a sore throat. What more could you ask for?! Ginger has long been known as a common digestive aid (reducing toots!). However, its anti-inflammatory and analgesic qualities can also help to reduce swelling and pain.
How to Prepare:
1 cup boiling water
1 fresh ginger root washed and peeled
1 tsp fresh thyme
Honey to taste
Warm your tea cup with hot water and pour the water away. Add in your herbs and 2-3 slices ginger and pour in your boiling water to cover. Leave to steep 3-5 minutes (leaving the tea to steep longer will make the tea bitter). If you prefer a stronger taste, increase the quantity of your herbs. Add honey or sweetener to taste and garnish with ginger slice or lemon.
Other herbs and tea add-ons you might consider:
Cloves: to help you beat a respiratory illness
Cinnamon: for sore throats and to soothe coughs
Sage: helps reduce inflammation and swelling
Lemon: reduces mucus, fights bacteria and adds vitamin C
Vitamin-C Chicken and Dumpling Soup:
This is my “go-to” soup when I start to feel a little under the weather. Because I’m nuts and I love to cook, I make mine from scratch, right down to the stock. If you’re not crazy like me and aren’t a big fan of cooking, you can buy pre-made broths at the supermarket. I add in napa cabbage because it’s an excellent source of vitamin-c, is naturally mild and sweet, and it gives the soup a beautiful consistency and color. The dumplings are delicious and quick to make, and as you reheat your soup (I seriously eat this for every meal for 2-3 days when I feel a cold coming on) they break down and create a delicious creamy texture.
1 cup self-rising flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons buttermilk (add more as needed)
1/4 cup fresh, chopped parsley
Mix flour, salt and parsley, then cut in your butter with a pastry blender, fork or food processor. Add butter milk and mix briefly (don’t over process). Dough should not be dry, so add more buttermilk as needed. Roll into 1 teaspoon balls and drop into hot, simmering soup. Cook for 15 minutes and then serve hot.
4 cups stock or broth
3 carrots peeled and sliced
1 medium onion, diced
2 ribs celery halved and sliced
1/4 cup parsley
1/2 cup sweet green peas (frozen is fine)
4-5 leaves of napa cabbage, washed and sliced
1/2 cup pulled, cooked chicken per bowl
2 tablespoons butter or reserved chicken fat from stock
Combine carrots, onion, and celery with butter/chicken fat over medium heat. Stirring frequently, cook until the onions become transparent and soft (about 5 minutes or so). Add stock and simmer for 10 minutes, add in peas and napa cabbage and half the parsley, salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and drop in dumplings one at a time. Cook for 15 more minutes, serve hot over pulled chicken and garnish with fresh parsley and ground black pepper. Makes 4-5 servings.
The Absolute Best Chicken Stock from Scratch (for those of you who are crazy like me):
This is a long process, but well worth the effort. Nothing beats homemade for flavor or the delicious poached meat you get to pull and use afterwards.
2 whole, organic chickens (remove wings an thighs before putting into pot)
9 cups filtered water
2 tablespoons salt
2 carrots cleaned and cut in half
1/2 cup parsley, washed
1 onion peeled and quartered
2 ribs celery
1 packet unflavored gelatin
Combine all the ingredients in a large pot, adding water until it just covers the chickens (if you have water left over, you can add it at the end with the gelatin) except your gelatin and cook covered over low heat for 2 hours. The pot should be just barely at a low simmer throughout the cooking process. Remove from heat and allow to cool down for about 30 minutes. Remove the bones and vegetables. Remove the meat from the bones, pull into chunks and package into 1/2 cup portions. This way you can add chicken to your soup for each serving, or save the meat for salads, nachos, tacos, burritos, you name it!
Discard the bones and veggies. Pour your stock through a sieve and stir in bloomed gelatin (per package instructions). I like to freeze my stock into 2 and 4 cup portions so I can make rice, soups, etc. with this delicious elixir as needed.
Suzanne is a Moxie Cycling Ambassador and blog contributor. Check out her bio here!