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Grains to protect your immune system this winter

As the cold and flu season sets in, our need to buff up the immune system and guard our health increases. This time of year, many people take additional supplements, add to their daily pill box and continue their lives hoping their annual cold will disappear fast. So exactly how can you stay warm this winter and fight off the sniffles? First, less stress is best, so buy those gifts ahead of time. Second, even in the cool weather you can't forget to hydrate. Water is your healthiest supplement. Try heating it up with a cinnamon stick or a touch of lemon. And third, nothing defends your immune system more than a variety of whole foods. Grains are often overlooked in this spectrum yet vital to your health. Here are four grains that should be on your plate this winter.

1. Oats
When mother said to eat your oatmeal, she was right. Not only is this a wonderfully warm comfort food on a cold winter morning, it is also extremely versatile and incredibly good for your health. Oats trigger an immune response when there is disease in the body. Slightly less than one cup of oats gives your body over 10% of the daily value of zinc, selenium, protein, fiber, iron and vitamin B1. The iron will help produce more disease fighting white blood cells, and the selenium is a very effective antioxidant. Zinc is a mineral most of us know to take during cold season, but did you know that it has been proven to block the rhinovirus (bacteria behind 80% of colds) from reproducing! It also protects your cell membranes by not allowing the virus to host the cell and spread the infection. To pack in some vitamin C, add in a cup of sliced strawberries. Now breakfast is a power pack for immunity and delicious.

2. Barley
Nothing says cold defense on a wintery day better than hot soup! Adding barley to a rich vegetable stock will not only make it heartier, it will help cleanse your system. Barley contains over 20% of our daily recommended values for fiber, manganese, selenium and Vitamin B1. This B vitamin is also known as thiamine and has been linked to strengthening the immune system and helping the body cope with stress. The extra fiber in your system will also help fight off disease by keeping your body flowing and flushed. Food that does not leave the intestinal system can build up extra bacteria in the gut putting your system's defenses on overload. By keeping your digestive system clear, your immune system is free to defend against other invasions.

3. Millet
Gluten free and grains are not words that often go together, but in the case of millet, it's gluten free and can be used in nearly any grain recipe. Some may argue millet is a seed, just as some argue that tomatoes are a vegetable, but no matter its label, this little gem packs a lot of flavor in soups, salads, porridge, dinners and desserts. Loaded with calcium and vitamin B3 (niacin), millet not only amps up the flavor of a dish it also helps defend your health. Niacin isn't a vitamin just for flu season. Studies show that it combats high cholesterol, strengthens the cardiovascular system, is necessary in major organ function and supports compromised immune systems in individuals fighting HIV to diabetes. So next time you're considering rice for dinner, pull out the big guns and switch for millet.

4. Amaranth
Like millet, amaranth is used as a grain but classified as a seed, for this reason it is gluten free and bulks up a meal with vitamins and nutrients. It can be puffed like popcorn, sprinkled like granola, boiled, baked and fried. It has very little flavor on its own, so you can add any ingredient you like to create a different taste each time. Amaranth also has a gelatinous texture which can thicken soups, puddings and cereals making them a very filling dish. When it comes to your health, it has been added to our list of superfoods! It reduces cholesterol, high blood pressure and inflammation in the body as well as giving it a protein and fiber boost. Its high antioxidant values can help ward off cancer and support the immune system. To top it off it is a great source of potassium, zinc and many other minerals.

There are many other whole grains and grain like seeds that should be added to your repertoire, but if you haven't cooked them before, they can be daunting.

Searching for recipes is one option, but another is allowing us to inspire you. Veestro's A la Carte options feature excellent immunity defense grains like brown rice in our Thai Chick'n Stew. With flavors like this, you'll want to eat whole grains year round.

Read more about 5 Things to Eat for a Strong Immune System.

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