When cold weather comes, viruses tend to arrive, too. Fortunately, there are several ways you can naturally fend off the flu, from boosting your immune system to eating plenty of foods rich in vitamin C. Another stay-well tip is to not touch your face in public and to wash your hands as soon as you get home—rubbing your eyes or mouth with unwashed hands is a great way to make yourself sick. And don’t forget to keep your smartphone clean, too! The safest way to do that is to make a 50/50 blend of distilled water and 70% isopropyl alcohol (commonly called “rubbing alcohol” and sold at drugstores) and use a soft cloth to rub your phone down with a quick spray of your homemade cleaning solution.
Ways to boost your immune system include the classics: get plenty of sleep, exercise, manage stress, and eat well. In particular, you can feature foods containing high amounts of vitamin C with every meal. Given that citrus is a vitamin C star and also abundant during the chilly months, that’s a pretty easy (and tasty) goal. Better yet, since foods high in vitamin C also tend to be tart and tangy, they’re great for perking up whatever is on your plate. Happy taste buds help beat the winter blues! It’s also worth noting that vitamin C is water-soluble and not stored in the body, so it’s best to consume it regularly rather than take a vitamin C supplement once a day—excess vitamin C is just not going to hang around long. Here are some vitamin C-rich foods to try:
Peppers in general have high amounts of vitamin C, especially sweet bell peppers. Vitamin C is sensitive to heat, however, so it’s best to enjoy your peppers raw. Include them in salsas, puree them raw into hummus, toss them into salads, or use them as garnishes. And don’t forget to choose a variety of colors! Sweet bells are sold as red, orange, yellow, and green peppers, with red being the ripest (and sweetest) pepper and green being the least ripe (and least sweet). Harvesting the pepper at different stages of growth provides us with a tasty range of flavors along with different antioxidants—red and orange bells are high in beta-carotene, for example, which is the precursor to vitamin A.
Guavas have the highest amounts of vitamin C of any produce and are abundant in produce markets during the winter months. They also contain a lot of sugar, but a little goes a long way, and you can combine guavas with whipped cream or yogurt or mascarpone and enjoy them as a dessert. Alternatively, combine fresh guavas with coconut milk to make a tropical smoothie that’ll transport you to the beach! Note that guava juice has typically been pasteurized, which will greatly diminish its vitamin C content. (And remove its fiber content, too.) To maximize its vitamin C, it’s best to use fresh guavas.
Papayas and pineapples likewise contain high levels of vitamin C, although not nearly as much as guavas. You can use them in similar ways. Again, focus on fresh fruits rather than processed juices.
Citrus is of course the most familiar of the vitamin C standouts. Lemons, limes, and oranges make great bases for salad dressings—just squeeze them and mix the fresh juice with unrefined oils like extra-virgin olive oil and spices/herbs of your choice. Lemon + olive oil + Italian herbs makes an excellent dressing or pour-on sauce for veggie stir-frys and meats; lime + olive oil + chili powder gives your dish instant south-of-the-border flair; and orange + toasted sesame oil + tamari is a classic Asian dressing. Other citrus fruits like grapefruit and kumquats are ideal for eating out of hand. (Note that most of the kumquats sold in the US have sweet zest and bitter juice, so the best way to eat them is to cut them half, squeeze away the juice, and eat the outsides.)
Broccoli also contains high amounts of vitamin C, although if you don’t digest cruciferous veggies well or have hypothyroidism, it’s best to avoid eating a lot of broccoli raw and you may want to steam it first. If you are a fan of raw broccoli, though, stir some herbs and minced garlic into whole-milk Greek yogurt to make a delicious dip for your broccoli, or you can top stir-frys and scrambled eggs with chopped raw broccoli.
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