It’s that time of year. When runny noses, sore throats, coughs, and general ickyness threatens to intrude on your holiday plans and enjoyment.  So, how can your fridge and pantry help curb or prevent a nasty round of seasonal sickness? First, eating nutritious, whole, unprocessed foods and staying well hydrated is one of the best ways to keep your immune system running strong and better able to fight off potential illness. When/if you do get sick, the same still holds true. If you happen to have congestion, limiting your dairy, sugar, and wheat intake can also further assist in reducing this particular discomfort. All three are considered “mucinogenic” (promote mucus production) foods. And maintaining proper hydration helps your body flush out the waste produced as your immune system works to overcome the unwanted invader.

Beyond these basics, however, there are a few herbs and spices that are known for their sickness super powers. Try adding one or more of these lovelies to each meal when you’re sick or feeling a little overly stressed and susceptible to sickness to give your body a much needed boost.

1) Garlic – packed with allion and allicin, two compounds full of anti-viral and antioxidant properties, this powerful flavor booster has the potential to give your immune system the extra oomph to resist or get over a cold. For the best results, it’s recommended that you eat the garlic raw.  Try adding it to a simple oil, vinegar, and touch of honey vinaigrette, finely minced.

2) Cinnamon – a wonderful antioxidant and perfect spice for the fall and winter seasons, cinnamon can also help reduce congestion. Try adding it to your morning oatmeal or even adding it to your coffee, latte, or hot chocolate.

3) Turmeric – another powerful antioxidant thanks to the curcumin compound it contains, this lovely yellow spice has been the subject of a great deal of research recently. It’s been found to have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and even anticancer activities. Try adding turmeric to your morning smoothie for a fun little twist, butternut squash soup, or even your brown rice stir fry for a great nutrition and flavor addition.

4) Ginger – yet another antioxidant, ginger helps lower inflammation, eases upset stomachs, clams nausea, and can even help relieve headaches and flu/cold symptoms. One of the best ways to enjoy this lovely little root is steeped in some hot water to make tea. Add a squeeze of lemon and squirt of honey for a soothing and healing mug of goodness. The warm liquid  will also be a comfort to a sore throat!

5) Cayenne Pepper – when in doubt, heat things up! Spicy peppers like cayenne can help clear a stuffy nose.  The active component known as capsaicin, helps improve blood circulation, clear phlegm and mucus, and may even have anticancer effects. Add it to your ginger tea for an added kick, or sprinkle over rice or chicken for a little kick.

Don’t wait to try out these fantastic flavor boosters. They’re clear nutrition super powers and can add to your health on a daily basis, even when you’re not suffering from a cold!  Let us know your favorite way to use these great herbs and spices!

Aubrey Phelps, MS RDN