The dreaded ‘tickle in your throat,’ a cough here and there, and probably a few sniffles combined with powerful sneezes. Your body is fighting germs that you have been exposed to. In the winter months, everyone needs a solid plan to fight off colds and the flu. So what can you do to amp up your immune system? Here are 7 foods with known nutritional immune boost properties that you should try. After all it’s February, the month of love, so let’s practice some self-love. You are what you eat!

1. Fermented Foods

Sneezing into your elbow and washing your hands repeatedly is one way to help stop the spread of germs! If you are serious about boosting your immunity, then the addition of fermented foods is an essential habit for your germ fighting ways. The beneficial bacteria in fermented foods helps regulate your digestive system and strengthen immunity. Kefir, a fermented milk drink, is an excellent choice, and can be made from any type of milk, cow, goat or sheep, coconut, rice or soy. Besides kefir, other good fermented foods include natto, kimchee, miso, tempeh, pickles, sauerkraut, yogurt, and olives.

2. Chicken Soup

A research study published in Chest Journal found that drinking hot chicken soup is more effective than hot water when it comes to loosening up nasal mucus. Nasal secretions help rid the body of pathogenic viruses and bacteria. In addition to consuming chicken soup, breathe through a warm wet washcloth, and use steam to ease congestion.

3. Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is rich in lauric acid, which the body converts to monolaurin. According to a study published in the journal of Alternative and Complementary Therapies, monolaurin has profound antiviral and antibacterial activity. When selecting coconuts and coconut oil, make sure you choose organic ones that are unrefined, unbleached, made without heat processing or chemicals, and are non-GMO. A tablespoon of coconut is a nutritious addition to a morning smoothie.

4. Green Tea

Polyphenols and flavonoids found in green tea help boost our immune system, making our health stronger in fighting against infection. But don’t just drink the tea, gargle with it! Researchers at the University of Shizuoka in Japan studied nursing home residents who were at a high risk for catching colds and the flu. The residents were instructed to gargle with green tea three times a day. At the end of the study, the residents who had gargled with green tea showed a considerably lower rate of contracting flu and cold viruses. Green tea gargling is a great way to combat viruses that hang around in the throat.

5. Garlic

On average, children have six to eight colds per year and adults have two to four. Garlic has antimicrobial and antiviral properties that relieve the common cold, among other beneficial effects. British researchers gave 146 people either a placebo or a garlic extract for 12 weeks; the garlic takers were two-thirds less likely to catch a cold. Other studies suggest that garlic lovers who chew more than six cloves a week have a 30% lower rate of colorectal cancer and a 50% lower rate of stomach cancer. To soothe a sore throat simply suck on a clove of raw garlic for 10-15 min. Be sure to scratch it against your teeth to stimulate the release of garlic juice. If you are looking for a way to mask the taste of the garlic, try soaking a slice in honey before you suck on it.

6. Mushrooms

White button mushrooms are shown to increase production of B and T lymphocytes, which are the crucial immune cells that help control our response to pathogens (harmful bacteria), viruses, toxins and other substances that can make us susceptible to illness. Heat mushrooms in a large skillet and add garlic, or top off your favorite salad with one cup of mushrooms.

7. Bell Peppers 

Last but not least, we cannot forget about the importance of foods rich in Vitamin C. A vitamin C deficiency results in a reduced resistance against certain pathogens, whilst a higher supply enhances the immune response. There are many options when it comes to Vitamin C intake. Here are a few of my favorites: bell peppers, dark leafy greens, kiwifruit, broccoli, berries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, peas, and papayas.