As the weather gets colder and we spend more time indoors, we’re often sharing space with others who are sniffling and sneezing. Loading up on foods that pack a nutritional punch will go a long way toward boosting your immune system so you can fight off winter cold and flu germs.
Avoiding sugar and processed foods is huge as those foods actually decrease white blood cells in your body, which are key to fighting infections. But you can do even more by selecting foods that have specific immune-boosting nutrition.
1. Vitamin C is thought to increase the production of white blood cells. So choosing foods high in vitamin C may decrease your chance of infection or lessen the duration and severity of colds and flu. Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit are packed with nutrition, but did you know that ounce for ounce, red bell peppers have twice as much vitamin C? Other great choices are broccoli, spinach and other dark leafy greens.
2. Vitamin D helps to regulate the immune system and is thought to boost our body’s natural defenses against diseases. Many experts now advocate 1,000 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily. Our body makes vitamin D naturally when the skin is exposed to sunlight for 10-20 minutes per day. In the winter you can also increase your intake through foods such as fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines), mushrooms (which also increase the production and activity of white blood cells), and fortified foods such as milk, orange juice and cereals. To be sure you’re getting enough, you may want to talk to your doctor about supplements.
3. Garlic is often referred to as nature’s antibiotic because of its immune boosting properties. Even early civilizations recognized its value for fighting infections because of its natural antiviral and antibacterial properties. Other immune-boosting spices include ginger, cinnamon, and turmeric.
4. Poultry. Turns out your mom was right! When you’re sick, chicken soup is more than just a feel-good food. It can also help protect you from getting sick in the first place. Poultry, such as chicken and turkey, is high in vitamin B-6, which vital to the formation of new and healthy red blood cells. Stock or bone broth, which is produced by boiling chicken bones, contains gelatin, chondroitin, and other nutrients helpful for gut healing and immunity. Here’s an easy recipe for making your own nutrient-rich bone broth.
5. Fermented foods contain friendly bacteria that have a powerful, beneficial effect on your gut's immune system. Yogurt and kefir that contain live, active cultures (a.k.a. probiotics) help keep the gut and intestinal tract free of disease-causing germs. Just be sure to check the label for high sugar content, which will counteract the beneficial bacteria. Other fermented foods to consider are kimchi (spicy, Korean slaw), miso, tempeh, pickles, and sauerkraut.
6. High antioxidant-containing foods like blueberries, raspberries and green tea also help keep you healthy by protecting your cells from free radical damage.
This is just a sampling of the foods that can help you avoid getting sick this winter. Keep in mind it’s important to eat a colorful variety of foods, especially fruits and vegetables, every day. This way you’re sure you get the benefit of all the vitamins, minerals and protective plant compounds they offer.