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October is somehow, unbelievably, already halfway over, and you’ve probably started noticing the telltale signs of cold weather’s approach: winter décor ideas, Halloween costume inspo, and—most upsettingly of all—hacking coughs on the subway and flu shot reminders at your local pharmacy. Boooo.
Whether you’re like me and get sick at the slightest exposure to germs, cold, or exhaustion, or have a tough constitution that rarely succumbs to sickness, odds do go up that you’ll get sick during flu season, which kicks off in October and doesn’t wrap until May. (Yeah, we’ve got awhile.) And antibiotics are really hard on your body, so should only be used as a last resort.
To help steel ourselves against the inevitable winter flus and other viruses, I asked Amie Valpone, HHC, AADP, a Manhattan-based nutritionist and author of Eating Clean: The 21-Day Plan to Detox, Fight Inflammation, and Reset Your Body, what we can do and eat in order to ward off—and fight, once we’ve gotten—the flu. Here are her top 10 tips.
Wash Your Hands the Right Way.
Good old soap and water can go along way—just be sure you’re using the right soap. “It’s key to wash your hands throughout the day since we come in contact with germs every minute of our day, from our computer to our phones, to doorknobs and elevator buttons,” says Valpone. “Steer clear of antimicrobial soaps that can lead to more resistant infections. Also, keep your hands out of your nose, mouth and eyes so you’re not transferring germs into your body.”
Eat Your Greens.
Whole, organic veggies will keep your immune system strong, says Valpone. “Focus on adding in leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collard greens, Swiss chard, arugula and dandelion as well as cruciferous veggies like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli to your recipes. Peppers, fresh ginger, sweet potatoes and winter squash are also great to add into your meals every day. These veggies are all high in phytonutrients and vitamins A and C to support your immune system.”
Flush it Out.
When you do find yourself congested, flush your sinuses daily. “You can use a saline product like Arm & Hammer Simply Saline, which aids in prevention of nasal congestion,” says Valpone. “Congestion is often a contributor to mouth breathing and snoring, and can deter sleep, which you sorely need when you’re sick.”
Load up on Veggies.
Make a point of eating more antioxidant-rich berries. “Fresh or frozen berries will help reduce inflammation and keep your immune system strong,” says Valpone. “Toss organic berries such as blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries into your morning smoothie or purée them into a salad dressing with extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt, and pepper for a touch of sweet flavor without added sugar.”
Detox with the Right Foods.
Raw garlic and onions have antimicrobial properties, which can help fight bugs. “Add them to salad dressings, stir-fries, soups, stews, and homemade hummus,” says Valpone. “Garlic is best consumed raw to help fight colds, which may not sound too appealing, so start with one clove of garlic while eating a slice of whole grain bread with almond butter. This way your mouth won’t burn for hours afterward!”
Studies have shown that refined sugars can suppress your immune system, says Valpone, so avoid it. “Remember, sugar isn’t just in desserts, but also white flour, white bread, white rice, ketchup, salad dressings, and other processed foods that aren’t made from whole grains. If you’re craving something sweet, stick with honey and pure maple syrup for natural sweetness.”
Drink, Drink, Drink Fluids.
Dry winter air can make it hard to stay hydrated, but when our mucous membranes get dry, they’re more susceptible to inflammation, says Valpone. “Fluids support all your body’s functions and your immune system,” she says. “Drink filtered water and herbal teas with fresh lemon slices and freshly grated ginger. Or make soups and broth from scratch with organic chicken, fresh herbs and fresh vegetables. Warm fluids are especially helpful during the cold season.”
It might seem a little random, but gut-supporting probiotics (a.k.a. good bacteria) will support your entire immune system, because 70 percent of our immune system is located in the gut. “To keep your body healthy, it’s important to focus on adding beneficial bacteria into our gut,” says Valpone. “Take high-quality probiotics and eat probiotic-rich foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, and yogurt.”
It’s not news to you, but it bears repeating: “Everyone knows we need at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night to allow our body to heal itself and function optimally to keep our immune system strong,” says Valpone. “If you’re fighting the flu, try tucking into bed an hour earlier—not hard to do as the days get shorter.”
Sweat it Out.
Epsom salt baths are great for detoxing when you’re sick. “Your skin is your biggest organ, so soaking in an Epsom salt bath for at least 30 minutes with warm water will help draw toxins out of your body,” says Valpone. “It will also make you feel refreshed and relaxed from the magnesium in the salts. Add a drop or two of organic essential oils like lavender for extra relaxation.”