Let Food Be Thy Medicine

With cold and flu season upon us, we’re often asked what we feed ourselves and our families to stay healthy and illness-free.  In no particular order, here are a few of our favorites:

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

Researchers are not entirely sure why, but studies suggest that chicken soup may be just as effective as over the counter medicines in fighting the common cold. One theory is that hot liquids help mucus move through the nose, which in turn relieves congestion and cuts down on the time viruses are in contact with the lining of the nasal cavity. It’s also full of healthy nutrients and tastes pretty great, too. Even if your kids – like ours- pick out the veggies, they still get vitamins and minerals in the broth. We like this recipe from the New York Times.

Fresh or Frozen Strawberries
Ounce for ounce, strawberries contain more vitamin C than oranges. One 1/2 cup serving – about 5 large strawberries – provides 58 mg, more than a full day’s worth of the recommended daily intake for kids (15 mg for 1-3 year olds and 25 for 4-8 year olds). And while it’s a myth that mega doses can cure the common cold, it does play a role in immune function. If you don’t like strawberries, don’t despair, vitamin C is found in EVERY fruit and vegetable, with oranges, cantaloupes, kiwis, grapefruit, and red yellow and orange bell peppers being particularly good sources. Opt for organic, when possible.

These days, it’s all about probiotics, aka good bacteria, and gut health. Scientists are still trying to unravel all the mysteries of the GI tract and its role in overall health and chronic disease, but we do know that a healthy gut helps strengthen the immune system. Probiotics are in all fermented foods, but yogurt is generally the most popular option for kids. Look for full fat plain or Greek yogurt and add your own fresh or frozen fruit (strawberries, anyone?).

Manuka Honey
While we normally shy away from recommending sweeteners, this one may help fight off infections. Methylgloxal, a natural compound found in honey made by bees that live around the manuka bush in New Zealand, is believed to have certain antibacterial properties. Manuka honey is expensive and the price (and potency) vary depending on various scientific grading standards. We like Wedderspoon Raw Manuka Honey KFactor 16 and recommend replacing regular honey and other sweeteners with 1-2 teaspoons daily in coffee, tea, yogurt, oatmeal and baked goods. Trader Joe’s also carries an economical one (about $12 a jar).

In addition to the foods above, a balanced diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables and good sources of protein, will go a long way to keeping your immune system buzzing. We also stand behind frequent hand washing (but skip the antibacterial soap and hand sanitizers), which should go without saying but almost never does, especially with kids. And lastly, if you or your kids are starting to feel run down, do not underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep (the American Academy of Sleep recommends 11 to 14 hours for 1 to 3 year olds, 10 to 13 hours for 3 to 5 year olds and nine to 12 hours for children 6 to 12)!