This flu season, Iíve been trying hard to stay healthy. I got vaccinated. I take vitamin C, try to clock at least eight hours of sleep per night and check the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionís weekly influenza map with the fervor of someone who has read too many pandemic novels.
If youíre like me, your hand sanitizer is running pretty low. Besides getting vaccinated, practicing frequent hand-washing and getting enough sleep, how can we help our immune systems? Eating right is a good start.
"Eating healthy doesnít have to be difficult or overwhelming," says Melody Chavez-Robben, a registered dietitian in the Tampa Bay area with more than 15 years of experience. But it can "help prevent catching colds or other viruses."
To support your immune system, try these five simple and delicious recipes. You can make most of them in 30 minutes or less. Your body, and your taste buds, will thank you.
Emily Young, Times correspondent
Spinach, Kale and Strawberry Salad
We all know weíre supposed to take vitamin C to ward off colds and the flu, but why? Basically, your body has killer cells that wage war against invading microorganisms, and vitamin C acts as backup for that legion of killer cells. You can aid the effort with this refreshing Spinach, Kale and Strawberry Salad ó all three main ingredients pack a vitamin C punch. (This salad is also a perfect way to use the fresh strawberries you pick up at the Florida Strawberry Festival, happening now in Plant City.) To make, wash 3 cups baby spinach and 3 cups kale. Wash and quarter 1 cup strawberries. Peel 1 avocado, remove the pit and dice. Crumble ľ cup goat cheese. Place all the ingredients in a large bowl, along with Ĺ cup toasted, slivered almonds. In a separate, small bowl, combine ľ cup apple cider vinegar, 1 Ĺ tablespoons honey, Ĺ teaspoon salt and Ĺ cup olive oil. Stir. Toss the salad with as much of this dressing as youíd like. You can refrigerate the leftover dressing for up to one week. Serves 4. Recipe adapted from Life is but a Dish.
Carrot Ginger Soup
This Carrot Ginger Soup can be eaten hot or cold, and it only takes 20 minutes to make. Even better, carrots boast plenty of vitamin A, an antioxidant that "helps the body fight off invading bacteria and viruses," explains Chavez-Robben. Meanwhile, ginger is "an antibacterial that helps support the immune system." Start by mincing ľ cup shallots and 4 teaspoons ginger. Peel and chop 1 pound carrots and 1 medium sweet potato. Place the shallots and ginger in a pot and add 2 tablespoons coconut oil. For about 2 minutes, cook the mixture over medium heat. Youíll know itís done when it smells fragrant. Next, add the chopped carrots and sweet potato, along with 4 cups of water and 2 teaspoons coarse sea salt. Cover the pot and simmer for 10 minutes; the vegetables should be tender. Puree in a blender. When itís smooth, season with salt to taste. If you serve it cold, you can swirl yogurt into the bright orange soup for decoration and flavor. Makes 6 cups. Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Living.
Banana Peanut Butter Smoothie
If youíre rushing out the door to work, this Banana Peanut Butter Smoothie is a quick and nutritious breakfast. What makes it so healthy? It contains vitamin B-6, which supports "biochemical reactions in the immune system," and vitamin E, "another antioxidant that helps the body fight off invading bacteria and viruses," says Chavez-Robben. Begin by freezing 1 medium or large banana. Slice it, then combine it in a blender with the following ingredients: ? cup low-fat milk or almond milk, 2 tablespoons smooth or chunky unsweetened, unsalted peanut butter, Ĺ teaspoon honey and a couple of drops of almond or vanilla extract. (If you didnít have time to freeze a banana in advance, donít worry. Just add a few ice cubes to the mix.) Once itís smooth, drink immediately. Recipe adapted from the New York Times.
Tuna and Bean Salad
Need a quick meal? Make this salad in 15 minutes. "Tuna and bean salad is an excellent source of protein and zinc that can promote immune health," says Chavez-Robben. "Protein is part of the bodyís defense mechanism." Peel 1 small or Ĺ medium red onion and slice it very thin. Let it soak in a bowl with 1 teaspoon of red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar and cold water (enough to cover it). After 5 minutes, drain and rinse with more cold water, then set on paper towels to dry. Drain 1 (6 Ĺ-ounce) can water-packed tuna. Drain 1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans and rinse through a strainer. In a medium bowl, toss the tuna and beans with the onions, 3 fresh, slivered sage leaves and 2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley. In a separate bowl, combine 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, 1 small or medium garlic clove (finely minced) and Ĺ teaspoon Dijon mustard. Combine with 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and 1 tablespoon plain low-fat or nonfat yogurt. Add to the tuna and beans. Cut a Japanese cucumber in half, lengthwise, and slice. Garnish the salad with the cucumber. Serves 2. Recipe adapted from the New York Times.
Lemony Pasta With Chickpeas and Parsley
For a healthy but elegant meal, try this Lemony Pasta With Chickpeas and Parsley. Chickpeas contain zinc, which "helps fight infections," and "has anti-inflammatory properties," Chavez-Robben says. This pasta only takes 30 minutes to make, so itís a perfect weekday dinner. Start by adding a liberal amount of salt to a large pot of water. Once it boils, add 8 ounces whole wheat fusilli pasta. Cook until just shy of al dente. Drain. Meanwhile, place 2 cups cooked chickpeas in a large bowl. (You can cook them at home or buy them canned.) Use a fork to lightly mash them until they are half-crushed. In a 12-inch skillet, heat ľ cup extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat. Peel and smash 2 garlic cloves. Fry the garlic in the oil for about 2 minutes; youíll know itís done when the garlic turns golden brown. Add half an onion (diced), 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves, a pinch of red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt. For 10 minutes, stir the mixture occasionally. When the onions are soft, add the chickpeas and 1 Ĺ cups vegetable stock or water. Simmer about 5 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Pour in the pasta and 3 cups fresh parsley leaves. Cook for about 1 to 2 minutes, or until you like the consistency of the pasta. Add ? cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, the finely grated zest of half a lemon, pepper and more salt if desired. The lemony sauce should coat the pasta. To serve, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with extra cheese. Recipe adapted from the New York Times.