With Halloween behind us, it’s time to shift our excitement towards winter – glistening snow, outdoor winter activities, cozy nights by the fire place, holiday family gatherings, and hearty winter recipes that warm you from the inside out. There’s lots to love about winter, but it also brings with it a few less desirable attributes – shorter days, icy sidewalks, and wind chill factor. There’s not much we can do about the frightful weather outside. Rather than think about what you like least about the impending winter season, why not focus on something that can help make your winter a little less cold?
Though we certainly can’t raise the temperature, we can equip our bodies to better protect and combat the common cold and flu. Think of your immune system as your body’s gatekeeper, your best and closest ally that maintains health and protects you from harm. A balanced diet filled with foods known to have immune-boosting qualities would be your second in command.
Help protect yourself against infection by including these immune-boosting foods and nutrients in your eating plan this fall and winter season.
Vitamin C is the resident celebrity when it comes to immune-boosting nutrients. For years, people have been mega-dosing on food and supplement sources at the first sign of a sniffle or throat tickle. It is true that vitamin C is involved in an array of immune functions but neither regular consumption, nor supplementation will prevent you from getting sick altogether. What studies consistently show is that a diet with plenty food sources of vitamin C can reduce the duration of the common cold. The human body also can’t store excess vitamin C, so if you don’t use it, you lose it. The take-home? Incorporate a variety of vitamin C containing foods when making your day-to-day vegetable and fruit choices, particularly when you start to feel a cold or flu coming on.
Sources: bell peppers, broccoli, strawberries, kiwi, oranges
The relationship between gut health and immunity has been gaining momentum recently, and with good reason! Probiotic bacteria are those beneficial bugs that live in our gut. They contribute to good health and immunity in so many ways, but their primary goal is to prevent infections from developing by detoxifying and eliminating harmful bacteria. Start off by incorporating foods with natural probiotics 3-4 times per week to support a stronger immune system.
Sources: yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kombucha, pickled vegetables
Zinc may be most famous for its sun-blocking abilities, but it’s also a key player in supporting healthy immune function and healing by producing and activating cells that help fight off infection. Although there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that the mineral will make your cold go away faster, what we do know is that those who are zinc deficient seem to have a poorer immune response. Who wouldn’t want to help their immune system fight off that nasty cold and flu more efficiently? Strengthen your immune system with the zinc it needs to work optimally all year round with the food listed below.
Sources: oysters, crab, lean red meat, chickpeas, kidney beans, almonds, pumpkin seeds
Vitamin D seems to be well-known for one thing and one thing only- its role in bone health. But the sunshine vitamin continues to receive attention for its role in optimizing immune function as well. Studies suggest that this bug fighting nutrient may help in identifying and destroying bacteria and viruses that make us sick. This could mean both shorter illnesses and reduced symptoms. It’s not uncommon for vitamin D levels to drop during the winter months, when colder, gloomy days encourage us to spend more time indoors. Throughout the winter, pay some extra attention to your daily intake of Vitamin D.
Sources: dairy products, fortified milk alternatives, salmon, trout, mackerel, eggs
Herbs and spices
These trusted kitchen staples not only add flavor to food and make recipes taste delicious. They also supply some important antiviral, antibacterial, and antimicrobial properties, all of which contribute to a well-functioning immune system. Whether it’s due to their antioxidant, phytonutrient, vitamin, or mineral content, these flavor-packed compounds are worth every dash, pinch, and then some. A few that top of the list…
Sources: garlic, ginger, onion, curcumin (turmeric), cinnamon
Adequate fluid intake is often overlooked as a fundamentally important health behaviour. Dehydration makes you more susceptible to infection and fluids become especially key once you’re sick. Staying well-hydrated not only helps your body eliminate some of those bugs that cause infection, but will always play a vital role in treating your cold or flu. Your fluid choices are particularly important, as they can provide additional immune-boosting compounds in addition to their hydrating effects.
Sources: water, herbal and green tea, low-salt broth and soups
While there’s no magic solution and nothing can completely stop a cold in its tracks, the best defense during cold and flu season is a healthy immune system. At Motive Nutrition, we believe in a health-centered approach and the power of food as a preventative medicine. Eating for immunity can help equip you to put your strongest immune system first this winter. We promise, it will be easier and tastier than you would ever think.
By Katie Cohen Olivenstein