With cold and flu season in full swing, you’re probably thinking about how to stay healthy this winter. A strong immune system, along with good hygiene habits (like regular handwashing) can help you stay healthy and recover faster if you do get sick. The foundation of a healthy immune system lies in your daily habits. This includes eating a well-balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, managing stress, and exercising regularly.
When it comes to eating for your immune system, the basics matter: eating enough, staying hydrated, and eating a variety of foods, especially fruits and vegetables. It can be helpful to understand that cutting calories too much can be a stress on the body and weaken your immune system, so be mindful of cleanses and other very low-calorie diets at this time of year as well. Once you’ve got the basics down, adding in certain foods may support your immune system even more, giving you an extra edge against illness.
- Strawberries and oranges and bell peppers, oh my! These are just a handful of the fruits and vegetables that are loaded with vitamin C, an important nutrient to support your immune system. Just one cup of strawberries or a half cup of red peppers provides 100 percent of your daily needs. Other foods that are high in vitamin C include leafy greens, mango, kiwi, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and tomatoes.
- Seeds galore. Pumpkin, sunflower, hemp, and flax seeds are a good source of zinc, another important nutrient for supporting your immune system. Some studies even suggest that zinc may help reduce duration and severity of the common cold. Sprinkle these on your yogurt or oatmeal, in a salad, or eat pumpkin or sunflower seeds as a snack.
- Fermented foods. Emerging research suggests that the gut microbiome plays an important role in immunity. Support the good bacteria in your gut with fermented foods (which contain probiotics) like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, and kombucha.
- Ginger. Ginger contains antioxidants that may support your immune system. Use it in stir fries, salad dressings, and marinades, or enjoy a cup of ginger and honey tea, which can be especially soothing if you are feeling under-the-weather.
- Garlic and onions. Garlic and onions contain compounds that may improve immune function. Enjoy them cooked or raw for immune supporting benefits.
- Canned salmon with bones. Salmon bones are a good source of vitamin D, which plays an important role in immune function. Not a fish eater? Vitamin D is found in a few fortified foods including milk, orange juice, eggs and mushrooms — just make sure to look at the nutrition facts panel to confirm that you’re purchasing the fortified option.
- Green Tea. Sipping on green tea may not only warm you up on a cold day, but it could also give you a little immune support. It contains EGCG, which has been shown to play a role in the immune response.
Whether you add one, two, or all of these foods (and drinks) to your routine, remember that eating a variety of plant foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds) is the best way to build a strong defense, and no one food will keep you from getting sick.