Unless you're Rudolph, sporting a red nose for the winter probably isn't the look you're going for. And given all the sneezing, wheezing, and coughing that come with a seasonal cold or flu, that look can be, well, downright frightful. So wouldn't it be nice to skip the whole thing altogether?
While there's no magic potion that can guarantee you'll bypass the season of sniffling, research shows you can tip the odds in your favor with some smart immunity-boosting beverages.
By getting a mega dose of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals in liquid form, you're making it easier for your system to digest and absorb them, says nutrition expert Isaac Eliaz, MD, medical director of Amitabha Healing Clinic in Santa Rosa, California. Plus, the extra fluids help keep you hydrated, improve communication between immune cells, and flush out foreign invaders.
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So whether you're looking to start your day off with extra energy, end it on a high note, or ease your way through sick season, here are 10 immunity-boosting drinks you're going to want to try.
Rise and Shine
To get your day off on the right foot, Dr. Eliaz suggests starting simple.
"One of my top recommendations for immunity and overall health is to start your morning with a cup of hot water with fresh lemon and ginger," he says.
Don't be deceived by the simplicity: Grating one teaspoon of fresh ginger into 8 to 12 ounces of water and adding the juice of 1 to 2 lemon slices offers up a hefty dose of antioxidants, vitamin C, and other immunity-boosting compounds.
"It warms, activates, and cleanses your entire system," he says. (Make the perfect brew every time with these 5 Steps To A Perfect Cup Of Tea.)
Chai and Mighty
A traditional Indian tea, your standard chai is a blend of black or green tea, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, black pepper, clove, and fennel. All these herbs add up to a whole lot of beneficial compounds that enhance immune cells, energize cellular mitochondria for greater energy and vitality, directly fight bacteria and viruses in the body, and reduce chronic inflammation, says Dr. Eliaz. Phew!
One word of warning: make sure that your chai is unsweetened for maximum benefit. "Even natural sugars spike blood glucose which suppresses immunity," he says.
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Smoothies can be nothing more than glorified milkshakes, but with the right ingredients, they can become powerful medicine.
"Choose low-sugar fruits such as apples, bananas, and especially berries, which have powerful polyphenol compounds offering immunity benefits," says Dr. Eliaz. For a protein punch, try un-denatured whey, he says. "It's shown to increase immunity and support detoxification by increasing a key antioxidant, glutathione."
Omega-3 fats found in flax and chia seeds nourish immune cells and restore vital energy. Give this boosting blend a try:
Blueberry Chia Smoothie
2½ cups almond, coconut or rice milk 1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen) 1 scoop of concentrated, non-denatured whey powder 1/4 cup soaked chia seeds 1/2 banana 1 ounce coconut kiefer
Tip: To maximize the nutrients in chia seeds, soak 1/3 cup in 2 cups of water overnight. If you're short on time, even 15 minutes will make a difference.
Up for something a bit fruitier? Vitamin C powder can increase white blood cells and reduce inflammation, says Dr. Eliaz. And berry powders, frozen pulp, or extracts can pack in even more antioxidants and nutrients. Another booster: Adaptogenic herbs, such as astragalus, which can help offset the effects of stress and support long-term immunity, he says. Give this smoothie a whirl:
Super-C smoothie with astragalus
2½ cups almond, coconut or rice milk 1 packet frozen acai berry pulp 500 mg vitamin C powder (available at health food stores) 1 scoop concentrated, non-denatured whey powder 500 mg astragalus extract or powder 1/2 banana
Game, Set, Matcha!
Matcha is a powdered form of green tea, and has the same immune-pumping ingredients but in 10 times the concentration. The antioxidants and medicinal compounds in matcha tea can help you fight off viruses and bacteria, and even abnormal cells, says Dr. Eliaz.
"They also help reduce inflammation, support cardiovascular health, improve energy and focus, and balance hormones," he says. You can find matcha at health food stores and specialty tea stores.
"Studies show that mushrooms increase the production and activity of white blood cells, making them more aggressive—this is a good thing when you have an infection," says Douglas Schar, DipPhyt, MCPP, MNIMH, director of the Institute of Herbal Medicine in Washington, DC.
You can make the most of mushroom power with a powdered blend of medicinal mushrooms mixed with hot water. Dr. Eliaz suggests MycoPhyto Complex powder, which is made with six species of medicinal mushrooms grown with immune-enhancing herbs.
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If you like a little kick to your sips, healthy fizzy drinks can help keep you hydrated while giving you an added dose of vitamins and minerals. One tasty option, Airborne Plus Energy, offers up immune-supporting vitamins A, C and E and zinc, as well as health-boosting herbs like ginger and echinacea.
Sure they look sketchy, but green juices and juice powders can provide a healthy dose of nutrient-dense greens, including wheat and barley grass and even micro-algae like spirulina and chlorella.
"Greens help to alkalize your system which creates an inhospitable environment for germs and abnormal cells," says Dr. Eliaz. Another perk: Drinking your greens can help detoxify your body, he says.
Opt for a green juice with a diverse selection of organic ingredients and added probiotics, such as Vitality SuperGreen by Body Ecology, which has a blend of cereal grasses, micro-algae, green veggies, and probiotics.
Fruit of the Vino
Good news, wine lovers! The antioxidants in red wine may help keep you healthy.
A 2010 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that among 4,000 Spanish adults, those who drank more than 14 weekly glasses of wine for a year were 40 percent less likely to come down with a common cold. Why? Antioxidants are believed to fight infection and protect cells against the effects of free radicals. But like all good things, the key is, of course, moderation.
"Too much will cancel the benefits, because the alcohol and sugars strain the liver and reduce immunity," says Dr. Eliaz.
Hot Honey Helper
Your mom knew what she was talking about when she made you drink tea at the first sign of a cold: Hot drinks stimulate digestion, ease cold and flu symptoms, and give your immune system the extra kick it needs to fight germs. In fact, people who drank five cups a day of black tea for two weeks had 10 times more virus-fighting cells in their blood than people who drank a placebo hot drink, finds a Harvard study. Sweeten your immune-revving cup with honey, which offers its own health-boosting antioxidants. The darker the honey, the more antioxidants, so opt for varieties like buckwheat to get the best kick.
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