If there’s one thing that can be counted on during the winter months, it’s the ubiquitous seasonal cold. No matter where you go, chances are you’ll come across several people who are coughing, sneezing, snuffling, and wheezing unpleasantly, with the sore red noses and bleary eyes characteristic of a (very contagious) affliction that’s sure to drag on for weeks. Unless you plan to seal yourself into a bubble until spring, you’re very likely to come into contact with some of these people over the next few months, and you’ll undoubtedly end up with their cold or flu germs fluttering around you.

Aside from wearing a hazmat suit every time you leave the house, there are some steps you can take to fend off the winter plague. Washing your hands often, using hand sanitizers after being on public transit, and keeping distance from sickly co-workers are a few examples, and you can give your immune system a solid boost via the food that you eat. Every single bite we take has an impact on our health, so take special care to fill yourself up with foods that will help, not hinder, the healing process:

Foods Rich in Vitamin C

Strawberries, raw tomatoes, citrus fruits, red peppers, and broccoli are all packed with Vitamin C, which makes your white blood cells more active with infection-fighting dance party moves.

Garlic

Laden with antibiotic, anti-fungal, and antiseptic properties, garlic has been hailed for its healing properties for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks and Egyptians used it as medicine, and it was used to treat gangrene in both world wars. Unfortunately, this powerfully pungent plant is most potent and effective when it’s raw, as many of the compounds are broken down or destroyed during the cooking process. If you’re hesitant to chow down on raw garlic cloves, consider blending a few into a pesto with fresh herbs and olive oil, and stirring that into room-temperature soup: that way, the garlic will retain its health benefits, but be slightly more palatable. You’ll still have dragon breath, though.

Honey

Honey soothes sore throats, and has antimicrobial properties that help fight off infections. Buckwheat and alfalfa honey have higher levels of antioxidants and nutrients (especially if it’s organic), and taking a spoonful every day will power-up your immune system with its numerous live enzymes, vitamins, and minerals. Note: don’t give honey to children under 2 years of age, as they can develop infant botulism from spores that the honey might be contaminated with.

Zinc-Laden Foods

Zinc helps your body fight off infection, and speeds the healing of wounds and inflammations. This zippy-sounding mineral can be found in red meat and poultry, and is also present in seafood, whole grains, nuts, beans, and dairy products. Some cereals and non-dairy milks are fortified with zinc, but it’s best to get in its natural form.

Ginger

This gnarly little root has both antiviral and antibiotic properties, and is rich in vitamin and minerals. It helps to inhibit bacterial growth, is a powerful antioxidant, and is super-effective at killing off the common cold virus. If you’re already sick, ginger will help to lower your fever and calm chills, and it’s also a very mild pain reliever. To make ginger tea, grate an inch or so into a few cups of boiling water, and simmer for a few minutes over low heat. You can also juice ginger raw for maximum effect: put a 1-inch slice of ginger through your juicer along with 2 peeled apples, 1 peeled beet, and 2 carrots, and then add a dash of cayenne pepper for good measure for an immune-boosting power drink.

Live “Good” Bacteria

The live active cultures in yoghurt and kefir increase your intestinal flora (Lactobacillus reuteri! say that three times fast!) which help to block the replication of viruses in the body. These are the only kinds of dairy products that should be consumed when you’re ill, though: see the last paragraph of this piece for info on why.

Tea

Green and black tea are packed with antioxidant flavonoids that help repair cellular damage when you’re still healthy, while herbal tea like peppermint or ginger soothe queasy bellies if you’re feeling under the weather. Tea helps to replenish your body’s fluids, and most importantly, it’s really soothing and comforting. Both soup and tea are like warming internal hugs when you’re feeling sickly, so be sure to quaff plenty of it if you feel the lurgy coming on.

If you’ve already come down with something nasty, the foods listed above can help you to get over your illness more quickly, and will hopefully be comforting and delicious as well. There are also some edibles that are best avoided if you’d like a speedy recovery: avoid dairy products, which can thicken mucus and phlegm, and stay away from sugar—it makes your illness-fighting white blood cells sluggish, thus acting as an immune system suppressant. Be sure to get plenty of rest, cut down on junk food in favour of vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and lean proteins, and you’re certain to fight off any cold you encounter.

Featured photo credit:  Winter woman in snow looking at camera via Shutterstock

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