Three immune-boosting foods for winter colds

Michigan winters are tough. The temptation to hibernate kicks in as temperatures drop and the days become shorter and darker. Less sunlight means less natural Vitamin D which helps keep our immune systems strong. Researchers are finding that cold temperatures may allow certain viruses to survive and spread more easily. Winter can also be a time of elevated stress as many of us are also juggling an array of holiday commitments with friends. Lots of travel, late nights, and a host of holiday treats can add to our stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, your immune system doesn’t function as well when you’re constantly in a state of “fight or flight”. During these tough times, our bodies need every little bit of help to fight cold and flu symptoms, and certain foods can really help us out. Here are three of my favorite foods to eat when I’m sick.

1. Bone Broth or Soup to Help Boost Your Immune System

We’ve all been told to have chicken soup when we’re feeling under the weather. Enter bone broth, chicken soup’s groovy cousin. Bone broth is similar to chicken broth with the notable difference being that to make bone broth, the meat is simmered for longer amounts of time so the bones actually break down into the liquid and the collagen releases into the broth. That rich collagen broth is generally pretty easy on your stomach while still providing the nourishment of a light meal. Broths are high in vitamins and minerals and are a great way to stay hydrated when water doesn’t sound so appealing. I know when I’m sick, eating something savory and slightly salty tends to taste better. Hot broth can also act as a nice decongestant and ease chills.

Foods to eat when sick: Broth simmering on stove

When I was working as a caterer, I would usher in winter for clients with big batches of bone broth for them to have at the ready. Testing and sipping the broth as it simmered on the stovetop for hours became a beloved and indulgent habit for me during dark, cold days. I even had some fun experimenting with “bone broth latte” recipes.

Homemade Bone Broth

Making bone broth from scratch is simple and I encourage everyone to give it a try. Grab a whole bone-in chicken or a couple hearty bone-in chicken breasts (Argus Farmstop is a great place to go to get local, free-range chicken), place them in a large pot with a little apple cider vinegar and whatever aromatics you enjoy (bay leaf, onion, garlic, carrot) and simmer away for at least six hours.

Slow cookers are great for bone broth, but not necessary. If you feel like going a more traditional route, most bone broth recipes call for chicken backs and chicken feet, which will give you a super collagen-rich broth. Here’s a classic bone broth recipe. When I make broth, I always make an extra large batch and freeze individual containers to have on hand. Similar to broth and stock you might find in the store, bone broth is a great liquid to cook with if you want to give your rice or quinoa a big nutritional boost.

Jars of bone broth to eat when sick

If you’re vegan or vegetarian, there are some fantastic mineral-rich, vegetable-based broth recipes on the internet like this one that contains wakame seaweed and mushrooms. Seaweed contains a wide array of vitamins and minerals that can supplement your diet. Mushrooms contain Vitamin D which is great for your immune system. Wakame is a good source of omega-3s and several vitamins and minerals like iron, calcium, and magnesium.

And remember to have fun and experiment with ingredients! Throw some mushrooms and seaweed in your chicken broth. Use beef bones instead of chicken. Add slices of ginger, lemongrass and lemon to your mineral broth. Recipes are an opportunity to be creative. Start with what you have at home and what sounds good to you and go from there.

Chicken Soup to eat when sick

2. Spiced Lemonade to Soothe That Sore Throat

Sipping a warm citrus and clove drink reminds me of my mom. When I was feeling under the weather or she was feeling inspired, she’d whip this wonderful tonic together for us both. I still have the original paper copy of the recipe my mom found in Real Simple magazine. I’ve adapted it below by substituting honey for the white sugar and freshly squeezed juice for the store-bought carton. The not-so-secret ingredient that makes this recipe special is clove. That warm and slightly spicy note is what makes the drink unique.

Spiced Lemonade to drink when sick

This tea has several ingredients that help us feel better when we’re sick. Honey has soothing, anti-cough properties as well as being antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory. Local raw honey is best, and we’ve got lots to choose from here in Michigan. Just be sure your tea is not too hot when you add the honey as the heat can destroy the beneficial antioxidants. Adding a big squeeze of lemon adds vitamin C and the ginger helps relieve nausea and reduces inflammation.

Enjoying a warm cup of tea can be a calming and comforting ritual that helps you forget you’re under the weather. Take a moment to let the warm steam waft up to your nose and inhale the spicy scents with a nice deep breath. Hopefully for a moment you feel like you’re getting a big warm hug from a loved one — I know that’s where this drink takes me.

Spiced Lemonade Recipe

Spiced Lemonade Recipe

  • ½ cup orange juice, freshly squeezed
  • ¼ cup lemon Juice
  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ cup honey (add more or less depending on your preference)
  • 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
  • 2 cloves
  • ½ tsp vanilla

Add all the ingredients, except the honey, to a small sauce pot and bring to just barely a simmer. Heat on very low for 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Add in the honey to taste. This recipe makes enough for one large mug. You can also double or quadruple this recipe to make a bigger batch. Store it in the fridge and then you have it on hand to heat up quickly and sip throughout the day.

3. Banana Oat Smoothie

I love smoothies. Let me say it again: I LOVE smoothies! When I first joined MOVE, it was as the smoothie and juice bar manager. At my previous job at Juicy Kitchen, I had a smoothie named after me – the Rachel’s Breakfast smoothie (if you find yourself at the cafe, give it a try!). And the first blog post I wrote for MOVE was about… you guessed it… smoothies. They pack a ton of nutrients and are easy to drink on-the-go. They’re also an easy and enjoyable way to consume super healthy good-for-you ingredients like kale, spinach, flax and chia seeds because you can add natural sweeteners like fruits and honey to make it taste great.

Are smoothies good when you’re sick?

Whether you’re feeling a cold come on or are already in the throes of one, smoothies are a great low-maintenance, immune-boosting meal option. Something cold is always a welcome relief on your throat when it’s scratchy and irritated. When I was sick as a kid, my go-to relief food was vanilla ice cream. Luckily, as I got older, I figured out that a good smoothie can also satisfy a sweet tooth while providing the nutrients missing in my ice cream sundaes.

Banana Oat Smoothie to eat when sick

Are bananas good for when you’re sick?

Bananas and oats are good sources of soluble fiber, which are ideal for illnesses that affect your digestive system. Bananas are also relatively bland and easy to tolerate when your appetite is low and oats can help decrease inflammation in the gut. The below smoothie recipe is a little milder in flavor, which is typically better when we’re not feeling well.

Banana Oat Smoothie Recipe

  • 1-2 frozen bananas
  • 2-3 cubes ice
  • 1 cup plant-based milk (almond and coconut work well)
  • ¼ cup organic rolled oats
  • 1 medjool date or 1 tsp honey
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • Dash of vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • Splash of water, to thin, if needed

Throw all of the ingredients, minus the water, into a high-powered blender and blend away! If your smoothie is looking too thick, add a little bit of water until it starts blending smoothly. One fun trick to try is making little oat ice cubes by taking a tablespoon of oats and putting it in an ice cube tray that you then top with water. You can make 2-3 oat ice cubes for your smoothie and they’ll make your drink extra thick and creamy.

Oats Frozen in Ice

What should you not eat when sick?

While some foods like nutrient-rich bone broth are great when you have a cold or flu, other foods can make your symptoms feel worse. When you’re sick it’s best to avoid food and drinks that are hard on your stomach, including caffeinated drinks, alcohol, greasy foods, and sugary food or drinks.

Staying Healthy in the Winter

Beyond banana smoothies, bone broth and comforting cups of tea, the most important thing to remember about winter wellness is that it requires a comprehensive approach. In addition to making smart choices with what you eat and drink, don’t forget to move and mend your body to compensate for those dark, cold days.

To combat potential Vitamin D deficiencies, make sure to get out on those rare sunny days and enjoy a long walk, or just sit on your patio like a cat with your face to the sun for a few minutes. You might also consider purchasing a SAD lamp and/or talking to your doctor or nutritionist about whether or not you might need to take a Vitamin D supplement until more regular sun returns.

Moving your body during the winter is also key. If you normally enjoy outdoor exercise but can’t do it during cold, icy days, try adding an additional movement class to your weekly schedule or supplementing your daily routine at home with meditation, Pilates mat work, or GYROTONIC®️.

Looking for more health and wellness tips?

Check out other posts on our MOVE blog or subscribe to our newsletter.

Rachel Cook Studio Manager at the Desk

About Rachel Cook

Our Marketing Coordinator Rachel, came to Ann Arbor from Grosse Pointe to attend the University of Michigan as an Art History and Anthropology major. With a longtime passion for food and nutrition, Rachel joined the Juicy Kitchen team in 2012 and work as manager of the restaurant. In 2017, she started her own food business, Raw Materials, making healthy, ready to eat meals and desserts. While selling her meals directly to clients and at Argus Farmstop and Roos Roast, she found her way to MOVE Wellness as the Juice and Smoothie Bar manager. Rachel found the culture and environment at MOVE to be welcoming and full of learning opportunities. She gradually added to her responsibilities at the studio and came on full-time in 2018. In her free time, Rachel loves to try new things in the kitchen, keep up with her exuberant husky, and she’s always on the lookout for new trails to explore.