Staying active, getting adequate shut-eye, and of course, practicing regular hand washing are tried and true steps we can take to safeguard our health especially during colder months. But what about food? Can what you eat really keep you from getting sick? There are a lot of unknowns, but what we do know is that an adequate intake of nutrients is essential for cells to perform their best. And that includes those cells that make up our immune system.
There are many ways to amp up your immune system so your body is best prepared to resist illness. Start by taking care of yourself: sleep 7 to 8 hours per night, try to manage stress, exercise daily, and aim to eat a well-balanced diet. But if you’re looking for a little extra boost, fill your fridge with these foods (and drinks).
- All things vitamin C: It’s well established that vitamin C plays an important role in our immune system. While well-known citrus fruits provide plenty of this immune-boosting nutrient, other brightly colored plants, such as red bell peppers, are also loaded and often provide even more than citrus. Other foods that are an excellent source of vitamin C include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, dark leafy greens, strawberries, and pineapple.
- Cheer for the yellow and orange: These bright colors indicate foods that are a good source of vitamin A. Think sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, apricots, peaches, and cantaloupe. They all provide your immune system with the tools to fight infection.
- Be a little funky: Fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, and other fermented foods contain probiotics, the good kind of bacteria for your gut. Since nearly 70% of your immune system lives in your gut, keeping a balance of good bacteria can help you fight the bad ones that come your way.
- Allium up! Cook with garlic, onion, and leeks. The sulfuric compounds in these alliums have been shown to increase immune function. Alliums also act as a powerful prebiotic; that is, food for probiotics, which play a role in a healthy gut and immune system.
- Sprinkle the seeds: Rich in zinc, a mineral that plays an important role in immune function, sunflower, flax, and pumpkin seeds (or pepitas), are a great addition to cereals, yogurts, or salads. Other food sources of zinc include oysters, lentils, chickpeas, and cashews.
- Go for the (ginger) spice: Ginger has strong antioxidant qualities that support a healthy immune system. Steep fresh ginger in hot water for a tea or grate it into stir-fries, salad dressings, marinades, and grain dishes for a tasty punch of flavor.
- Take the gold with turmeric: Curcumin, the active compound found in turmeric, is known for its anti-inflammatory benefits, and it may also have immune-boosting properties. We love turmeric in soups, eggs, or sautéed with your greens. Read here for a few more ideas.
- Water: Staying hydrated helps your body remove waste and toxins, which may help in fighting off infections. In addition to drinking water, enjoy a hot cup of tea or bowl of soup to warm you up and melt away a little stress, which can also help keep you healthy!
In addition to the above foods, filling your plate with an abundance of colorful fruits and vegetables is your best safeguard. They offer many immune-supporting nutrients and the more variety you eat, the better defenses you will have.