Think just because winter is coming it’s an inevitable fact that you’re going to catch a cold or two, or even worse, the flu? Let’s face it, cold and flu season happens, but it doesn’t have to happen to you. With the right measures, you can actually help enhance the function of your immune system to help keep you illness-free and feeling healthy all winter long.
Regular physical activity, managing stress levels, and consistently getting seven to nine hours of sleep each night can all have positive impacts on keeping your immune system strong and healthy. Eating certain foods can also give you an edge over germs. Plant foods, like fruits, vegetables, spices, and herbs, tend to be the most beneficial foods for your immune system because they are ultra rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
You already know drinking plenty of water and eating a whole foods diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is key to good health. Here are our top food picks to start eating now and all through the winter to help your body defend itself against the common cold, flu, and other bacterial and viral infections.
Bell peppers and citrus fruits
Bell peppers and citrus fruits, like oranges, grapefruit, and lemons are excellent sources of vitamin C.
Perhaps you’ve heard upping your intake of vitamin C can ward off the sniffles. Getting regular vitamin C can help boost the production of white blood cells, whose job it is to help defend and fight off infectious bacteria and viruses.
Chickpeas are rich in the mineral zinc. Zinc is a common nutrient deficiency that has been linked to reduced immunity.1 Try using chickpeas in soups, stews, salads, roasted for snacking, or pureed into hummus.
Other good food sources of zinc include clams, oysters, shrimp, flax seed, and pumpkin seeds.
Dark green vegetables
Veggies are always a good choice, but dark green varieties, like spinach, kale, bok choy, swiss chard, and broccoli are micronutrient powerhouses, containing vitamins A, C, K, and plenty of minerals to keep your immune system strong.
If you struggle to eat several servings of dark green vegetables each day, you can also try adding a scoop of powdered greens, like IVL’s All Day Energy Greens, to water or smoothies.
Gut health is about so much more than just digestive health. An unbalanced intestinal microbiome - aka levels of “good” and “bad” bacteria - is linked to decrease immunity.2 Some research has found supplementing with probiotics can help reduce the upper respiratory infections, in particular.3
Regularly eating fermented foods like yogurt, raw sauerkraut, and kombucha, provide your small intestines with beneficial probiotics that can help maintain a healthy bacterial environment for better digestion and fewer colds.
Honey has antimicrobial properties that may help your body defend against harmful bacterial invaders. You can try drizzling local, raw honey over fruit, or adding a spoonful of honey in warm water with lemon or to your favorite tea.
This one isn’t just an old wives’ tale. Homemade chicken broth contains collagen from the chicken skin and/or bones that is believed to help maintain the health of the digestive system and, indirectly, your immune system. Soup is also a great vessel for lots of veggies!
If you don’t have time to make your own chicken broth, you can try store bought bone broth or a powdered supplement, like 24/7 Beauty Collagen Protein, for a dose of collagen.
Mushrooms are a good source of vitamin D. Low blood levels of vitamin D are associated with reduced immune system function and increases in infections and disease.
It’s critical to get added vitamin D from foods or a supplement during the winter months when sun exposure is reduced and your body is making less on its own as a result.
Besides adding flavor to recipes, garlic is rich in antioxidants, which can help reduce inflammation and keep your immune system strong. It also contains sulfur, which helps your body better absorb zinc. Try combining garlic with one of the sources of zinc mentioned above.
Try the following recipe to help reduce your risk of getting sick this winter!
Warming Chickpea & Veggie Stew
Makes: 4 servings
2 15-ounce cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 carrots, chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp tomato paste
Salt & pepper to taste
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
Pinch of red pepper flakes (increase if you like more heat)
2 cups chicken or bone broth
4 cups baby spinach
Fresh parsley, for topping, optional
2 cups cooked brown rice, for serving
- In a dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.
- Add onion and cook 3-4 minutes until translucent.
- Add carrots and bell pepper and cook another 3-4 minutes until vegetables begin to soften.
- Add garlic and cook another 1-2 minutes.
- Stir in tomato paste, salt, pepper, dried basil, dried oregano, red pepper flakes, broth, and chickpeas. Bring mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low and let cook covered for 15 minutes.
- Uncover and add spinach, cooking until it is just wilted.
- Place ½ cup brown rice and 1 cup chickpea stew in each serving bowl. Top with chopped parsley, if desired, and enjoy!
Nutrition Information per serving
Protein: 15 grams
Fat: 12 grams
Carbohydrate: 80 grams
Stay healthy this winter!
Yours in Health-
Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD
- ScienceDaily. (2019). Zinc deficiency linked to immune system response, particularly in older adults. [online] Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150323142839.htm [Accessed 26 Sep. 2019].
- Belkaid, Y. and Hand, T. (2019). Role of the Microbiota in Immunity and Inflammation.
- Hao Q, e. (2019). Probiotics for preventing acute upper respiratory tract infections. - PubMed - NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25927096 [Accessed 26 Sep. 2019].