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6 Superfoods to Keep You Healthy All Winter Long

Food

There's no getting around it. It's that dreary time of year when the low-level blahs—flu and colds and sore throats—are making the rounds. So it's time to think about what you can eat to build up your immune system. Supplements, powders and tablets are fine, but the best way to create an armor of immunity to fight off those winter bugs is to eat a healthy diet of superfoods filled with disease-repelling compounds. The natural blends and balances of nutrients found in foods can never be quite duplicated in the manufacturing process.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Here are some things you''ll want to have on hand in your kitchen as the days get colder and shorter.

1. Garlic may not REALLY ward off vampires, which probably don't exist outside of fiction, but it can help ward off that common cold. Known primarily as a preventive agent rather than an alleviating one, garlic has a complex chemistry  that can vary with preparation (it's widely considered to be most healthful when eaten raw) and it's not entirely clear which compounds provide which benefits. So supplements may not offer the same protection as the real thing. But it's easy—and delicious—to work into your diet, in pestos, sauces and some nice, steaming slices of garlic bread.

2. Honey has traces of a wide range vitamins and minerals that can be useful in boosting your immune system. In addition, it coats your sore throat and suppresses your cough reflex, letting you catch that sleep you need to recover more quickly. A dark, unrefined honey produced in your own region has the most health benefits.

3. Fresh lemon is full of vitamins like C and B as well as flavanoids, known to be helpful in fighting cancer. But lemon's antibacterial properties also make it effective in fighting off those lesser illnesses including sore throats. It increases perspiration too which can take the edge off that flu and help your fever to break.

4. Mushrooms are fungi, containing antibiotics that have both bacteria- and virus-fighting properties. Remember that penicillin, which revolutionized how we treat infection, came from a fungus. And different types of mushrooms have different blends of pathology-fighting and immunity-building agents so it's good to eat a wide variety of these intriguing plants.

5. Ginger is well known for its ability to settle a queasy stomach and quell nausea, symptoms which can come along with that cold or flu. Brew up a cup of ginger tea, or just chew on a small piece of fresh ginger for a calming effect and a taste that's both warm and tangy.

6. Herbs and spices, including tumeric, mint and fennel, are nature's medicine. Tumeric, usually found as a yellow powder used in Indian cooking, is something of a miracle ingredient, known for its healthful effects across the board. It's a powerful anti-inflammatory, something you're going to need when you start to feel your throat getting achy. Fennel helps settle the digestive system and can relieve both diarrhea and constipation as well as flatulence. Cooling mint settles the stomach, combats nausea, and clears up the congestion that goes along with flu and colds.

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"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."

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On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."