I took a deep breath, readying myself to smell the crisp Ohio autumn air.
Oh—but wait—that wonderful autumn smell never came. Instead, my throat tickled, rudely awakening a dull soreness, which then quickly prompted a sneeze. ACHOO! Ew, gross.
I caught the cold early this year.
As the days passed, my cold progressively worsened. My sinuses turned sharp and piercing, and my body ached even while lying motionless. As a nursing mom with a baby, my drug choices were pathetically limited—forcing me to forge a more natural path of Neti pots and long steamy showers. I begrudgingly complained to a friend, who then suggested the miraculous abilities of Indian food.
“And don’t wimp out on the spices,” she texted.
Indian chicken curry it was. Halfway through my meal, I felt my sinuses give way a bit and then slowly melt. The plumbing in my face felt like it was kicked—in a good way—and I even started to taste my food. Fifteen minutes later, I was half convinced this restaurant stew was magical. I even smelled the autumn air that night.
Turns out, I’m not the only one who swears by Indian food remedies, often referred to as Ayurvedic medicine. There’s real science that backs up some of its methods.
“Ayurvedic medicine is India’s system of natural healing employing the use of herbs, spices, and a healthful lifestyle to prevent and treat disease,” shares Rebecca Lewis, in-house Registered Dietician at HelloFresh. “Most often, it is the compounds and volatile oils inside the recommended foods that act as powerful antioxidants to fight oxidation and inflammation—both of which underlie most chronic diseases." Or, in my case, the basic seasonal “something that’s going around.”
Lewis suggests flavoring your meal, Indian or otherwise, with these five powerful spices when you’re preventing or fighting the flu or a cold.
Active component: curcumin
Turmeric has a wealth of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory abilities, protecting virtually every organ in the body. According to Lewis, turmeric has been found to help heal over 70 different maladies, including infection, headaches, digestive issues, cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes as well as improving blood flow and clearing up skin problems (fight acne and your common cold!).
Turmeric is actually the main ingredient in curry spice—aka my sinus savior in the form of Indian chicken curry. By itself, Lewis describes its smell as “like ginger and orange with a peppery taste.” Yet she shares that its flavor really mellows out once it is cooked. To make the effects of turmeric even more potent, Lewis suggests “combining it with black pepper or dairy (milk, yogurt) to enhance the absorption of the curcumin.”
02. Horseradish & Wasabi
Active component: sinigrin
A robust, naturally occurring antibiotic, sinigrin found in horseradish and wasabi helps treat respiratory issues. Lewis explains that “it can help clear congestion, thin out mucus, reduce inflammation, fight bacteria and viruses, as well as stimulate the immune system.” Studies have also found that sinigrin is a potential anti-cancer agent. While most people think of horseradish and wasabi already prepared and preserved (and probably sitting in your fridge’s side door)—you can also buy it in the produce section and serve it freshly grated. Lewis suggests throwing it in sauces, dips—or even adding it to mashed potatoes for some serious oomph.
Active component: ursolic acid
Antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, antiparasitic, antiseptic—ursolic acid found in oregano is the king of anti-bad. This little spice available at your local grocery store can prevent infection, fight decay—and even help with wound healing.
Lewis cautions that oregano has a strong flavor and can overpower a dish, so it may be best to use dried when cooking. However, if you want to use it fresh, consider using it for marinades for meats or infused into oils as a dressing.
04. Bay Leaf
Active component: cineole
Apparently, that dried leaf I saw my mom throw into the occasional stew might be the elixir of life. With antioxidants that rival those found in green tea—even stronger than vitamin C—cineole in bay (and eucalyptus) leaves help prevent bacterial infections and even promotes wound healing. Cineole is clinically proven to relieve muscle spasm and mucus buildup in the respiratory system—perfect to ward off cough and congestion.
Active component: allicin
During research studies, garlic capsules were taken by participants compared to a placebo. Over the course of twelve weeks during the most cold-friendly months, those who had taken the capsules were nearly three times less likely to get a cold.
Fortunately for you—you can absorb all the benefits and taste the flavor of garlic, capsule-free. Garlic in its natural form fights colds, prevents sinus infections, minimizes inflammation—and contains all kinds of vitamins and minerals that will help protect you from far worse illnesses, such as heart disease and cancer.
While the common cold and its comrade the flu might seem like inevitable side dishes to the season, consider infusing these five foods into your meals, and see if they make a difference in your health this winter. Worst-case scenario? They only improve your cooking.
Photo Credit: Scatter Jar