For those of us in the Northern hemisphere, it’s that time of year again: Cold and flu season. While many of us are looking forward to some snow flurries, soft sweaters, pumpkin spice everything, and the first days of the holiday season (“It’s the most wonderful time…”), we also dread the thought of all that coughing and sneezing, not to mention body aches, chills and sweats, headaches, and generally feeling like crap!
To help improve your odds of staying healthy this flu season, bolster your defenses in the battle of germ warfare by:
- Washing hands frequently (even more often than you think you should)—especially before preparing or eating foods—for at least 20 seconds each time
- Avoiding touching the face, eyes, and ears
- Carrying hand sanitizer and disinfect shared surfaces like doorknobs, grocery cart handles, gas nozzles, remotes, phones, etc.
- Getting plenty of sleep
- Exercising regularly
- Maintaining healthy levels of stress
- Avoiding sick folks
- Not isolating yourself—stay social
- Enjoying the little things in life
- Not smoking
- Drinking only in moderation (if you drink at all)
- Maintaining healthy levels of vitamin D
- And eating plenty of foods that boost immunity!
19 Foods That Boost Immunity
Wait! Are there really foods that boost immunity this cold and flu season?
While the foods you eat probably can’t make you completely immune, there are foods that have been found to support a healthy immune system and give you the upper hand even if you are exposed. Let’s take a look at the foods you’ll to want make sure you add to the weekly menu.
Of course, vegetables and fruits should be at the top of the grocery list for so many reasons, including as foods that boost immunity. Some in particular to add to the grocery cart are:
Bell Peppers: Red, yellow, orange, and green are all rich in vitamins like beta-carotene. Red peppers have even more vitamin C, which is synonymous with immunity, than citrus fruits.
Blueberries: These delicious sweet treats provide the antioxidant anthocyanin, making them amongst the best foods that boost immunity. Flavonoids like anthocyanin have been shown to play an essential role in supporting the defense of the respiratory tract, potentially protecting against the common cold. They can be found in a number of red, blue, and purple foods like black raspberries, blackberries, red cabbage, and black plums.
Broccoli: One of the healthiest vegetables around, broccoli provides more than just vitamins A, C, and E. It’s also a great source of antioxidants and fiber. It’s even more beneficial when it’s raw or just lightly cooked.
Citrus Fruits: Lemons, mandarin oranges, limes, oranges, and tangerines are all healthy sources of vitamin C, which is believed to increase production of white blood cells, necessary for fighting off infections.
Spinach and other leafy greens: Packed with antioxidants, vitamin C, and beta-carotene, both raw and cooked spinach help support the immune system.
Sweet potatoes: Another food rich in beta-carotene, which plays an important role in the immune system. It improves gut barrier function, enhances immune responses, reinforces mucus secretion, enhances natural killer cell activity, and reduces susceptibility to infection.
Mushrooms: While some (e.g., cremini, portabella, shiitake, maitake, and enoki) can be chopped up and thrown in a stir fry and other dishes, others (e.g., reishi, chaga, turkey tail, lion’s mane) can be dried and ground down into a powder and added to drinks or even put in capsules. Considering that mushrooms are a robust source of immune-boosting nutrients, such as selenium, vitamin D, glutathione, l-ergothioneine, and beta-glucan, it’s no wonder that a wide variety of mushrooms have been shown to support a strong immune system—especially shiitake and maitake. Importantly, they’re known to balance the system, so if you have an overactive immune system, it may be calmed. And an underactive system can be boosted.
Papaya: With 224% of the recommended amount of vitamin C per day along with the digestive enzyme papain, papaya supports a healthy gut, which is so important to a strong immune system.
A great way to ensure you’re getting all of the nutrients needed to help boost your immune system is to eat a rainbow of vegetables and fruits.
Next up, herbs and spices. They don’t just add flavor to foods, they’ve also been shown to be foods that boost immunity. Some to use to enhance your favorite dishes include:
- Cayenne pepper
Other foods that boost immunity include:
Yogurt, kefir, and other fermented drinks: Just make sure they contain live, active cultures and avoid those loaded with added sugar.
Seeds and nuts: Almonds, sunflower seeds, and other nuts and seeds provide a healthy serving of vitamin E—another nutrient that’s key to a powerful immune system.
Chicken soup. Yep, grandma was right. Chicken soup isn’t just good old comfort food when you’re sick, it might help prevent you from getting sick in the first place. Researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center found that various ingredients in chicken soup significantly inhibited the movement of neutrophils, which are white blood cells released as part of the body’s inflammatory response to infection. By suppressing activity of neutrophils, chicken soup can potentially minimize symptoms associated with the common cold. Plus, a good stock, or bone broth, is especially important as it provides gelatin (a source of collagen), chondroitin, and other gut-supporting nutrients.
Honey. Add a little sweetness to your life with this food that boosts immunity. Research shows that this isn’t just a folklore. Honey stimulates cytokines that activate leukocytes, which may work together to help kill bacteria and viruses. Although the research isn’t always conclusive, it may also help relieve a cough.
Dark Chocolate: Providing a nice dose of the antioxidant theobromine, dark chocolate helps protect against free radicals. It can, however, be a dense source of calories, and if you’re not careful, added sugar; so, a little goes a long way. And to make sure you don’t consume too much sugar, the darker it is, the better.
In addition to eating foods that boost immunity, it’s important to stay hydrated throughout the cold and flu season. And if you do feel like you’ve caught something, it’s even more important to sip on plenty of water. You can also enjoy a good cup of hot tea—especially green tea and echinacea—to help boost immunity and help you breathe easier.
Foods that Boost Immunity: A Wrap Up
It may not be possible to build a bullet-proof immune system capable of successfully battling any and all infections going around this season. But you can put the odds in your favor by eating foods that boost immunity and taking some simple steps to prevent infections. Good luck. We’re rooting for you!