The flu is on everyone’s radar and, according to the news, it’s one of the worst flu seasons we’ve had in, well, maybe even longer (but don’t quote me on that)! Our immune systems are working overtime and there’s only so much hand sanitizer and hand washing these hard working hands can handle and I know that at the end of the day, germs are hard to avoid. So, besides keeping my hands away from my faces and trying my best not to breathe when I’m sandwiched between two coughing people on the subway, the only other thing we can do is hope that our immune systems can pick up where we left off. And our immune systems are only as good as the vitamins we feed them. Indeed, think of each meal as an intimate date with your oh-so-sensitive immune system. Treat (or even spoil) your immune systems to the stuff it craves!
Rewind for a second, back to a few weeks ago when I made this delicious soup for my friends for dinner. When they entered my apartment they were immediately impressed by it’s overwhelming aroma and I said something like, “if anyone thinks they’re getting sick, this soup could probably cure you.” The smell, alone, was warm and nourishing and I knew, well sort of, that it was full of good for you stuff that could help with a cold. Which got me thinking. Why? And is there actually a way to cure a sickness with food. After lots of research, it seems like the answer is no, not really, or at least there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that food could actually cure or shorten a cold. There is, however, evidence which suggests that certain foods can strengthen your immune system and fend off bacteria and free radicals that cause colds and illness.
This soup is kind of like chicken soup on immunity steroids. Chicken noodle soup is what everyone thinks to make for a sick person and this might just be the next best thing. It’s full of ingredients that simultaneously gives your body what it needs to keep you healthy and nourishes a sick person at the same time.
The reason chicken noodle soup is so great when you’re sick is because it has lots of calories from the chicken, broth and noodles which the body needs to replenish in order for it to fight off viruses. The chicken also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. And it’s a warm liquid so it helps you stay hydrated and soothes a sore throat.
Without going into the details and biology of it all. There are lots of vitamins and nutrients that contribute to a healthy immune system. These are just a few:
The most famous food source is, of course, oranges and citrus fruits. You don’t have to limit yourself to just one kind; the produce section is teeming with a large variety of citrus this time of year. Nature works in mysterious ways, doesn’t it? I love citrus salads with a medley of blood oranges, naval oranges and cara cara oranges (actually half orange/half clementine). You can throw in grapefruit too.
Broccoli, red peppers and Brussels sprouts are even better sources of Vitamin C. In fact, a cup of broccoli has more vitamin C than one orange. Leafy greens are also an excellent source and work great as an added boost to your citrus salad. Sweet potatoes might just be my favorite source of vitamin C. And they happen to be one of the main components in my soup. Sweet potatoes are also a source of Vitamin A, which help maintain your throats mucus membrane and therefore protection from infection.
Another line of defense is Vitamin D, which plays a major role in immune function as well. It’s also one of the hardest vitamins to find in food, but it is present in wild salmon, making it a welcomed weekly menu item during the winter.
Garlic contains anti-bacterial agents which help fight illness and there’s some evidence to suggest that it may even help you recover from a cold faster. Cilantro is another source.
Inflammation is a term that’s being thrown out a lot lately and turmeric is one of the leading sources of an anti-inflammatory property called curcumin. It’s a common ingredient in lots of Indian cuisine, especially curries and has been used for centuries as a remedy for joint pain. For our purposes it’s also an important element of a healthy immune system. Pomegranates are also an anti-inflammatory aside from being a powerful anti-oxidant.
Ginger is one of the best antidotes for nausea. So if the stomach flu is your vice, some ginger might help. Probiotics are also what our bodies need to keep our stomachs healthy. An excellent source is yogurt.
You’ll notice that these are the things that make up my new favorite, ultra fragrant, sinus cleansing, immune boosting, winter staple soup. If you’re looking for a food to keep your mind and body at ease during flu season, this is it! Want another awesome soup to add to your rotation? Try Gillian’s Carrot, Parsnip and Ginger Soup with Shredded Rainbow Chard.
Based on the recipe by Melissa Clark:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 1 turnip, peeled and diced
- 1 sweet potato, diced
- 1-inch knob of fresh ginger, grated
- 2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- ½ teaspoon sweet paprika
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- Pinch of cayenne
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 quart chicken broth
- 2 bone-in skin-on chicken breasts
- 1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas, drained
- ½ cup picked cilantro leaves, more for garnish
- Lemon wedges, for serving
- Greek yogurt, for serving (optional)
- Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery, turnip and sweet potatoes and sauté until the onion is soft and translucent. Add ginger, garlic and all the spices and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add tomato paste and sauté another minute, until darkened but not burned.
- Adjust heat to high and add broth to pot. Add the chicken and enough extra liquid to cover the chicken (I usually add about another cup). Cook until the chicken is tender and cooked through, about 30 minutes. 3. Remove the chicken from the pot and shred the meat.
- Remove from the heat, add chickpeas and stir in shredded chicken. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Serve with a fresh squeeze of lemon, cilantro, and a dollop of Greek yogurt if you choose.
Sources: https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/foods-that-boost-the-immune-system , https://food.ndtv.com/health/fight-infections-and-boost-your-immunity-with-turmeric-696445 , https://www.prevention.com/food/healthy-eating-tips/power-foods-that-boost-immunity