The saying “you are what you eat” applies to your entire body, but it’s especially important when it comes to your immune system during flu season. “As we get older, our immunity starts to decline, but if we get the right nutrients, we can help our immune systems do their jobs to protect us against viruses like the flu,” says Samantha Heller, a New York City nutritionist.
You can keep it in tip-top shape this flu season — which may be a doozy — if you focus on a plant-based diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods, Heller says.
Here are eight foods that nutritionists recommend for flu season.
1. Green tea
Whether these particular tea leaves can really fend off the flu has been a source of debate among health researchers for years. But a meta-analysis published in July of 2021 in the journal Molecules looked at more than eight studies involving more than 5,000 participants to conclude there really is ample evidence to believe the beverage — and specifically, the catechins that provide its antioxidant power — can help your immune system fend off influenza.
2. Sweet potatoes
They’re a great source of beta-carotene, a phytonutrient that helps your body make vitamin A. “It supports respiratory health by increasing the number of immune cells in the body,” explains Anna Taylor, lead outpatient clinical dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition. This is especially important for older adults, as our bodies make fewer immune cells as we age, she adds.
Instead of cooking them with butter or brown sugar, Taylor recommends that you roast them with olive oil, oregano and black pepper. “You’ll get additional benefits from the spices, but you’re not loading up on sugar and saturated fat, both of which suppress your immune system,” she says.