by Mireille Najjar
The much-dreaded cold and flu season is upon us. To keep your immune system running strong, include these 6 immunity boosters in your diet. Plus make sure to wash your hands, drink plenty of water, and get enough sleep too.
Our diet plays an important role in strengthening our immune system. Unfortunately, many of us don’t eat enough fresh fruits, vegetables, and other foods we need to keep ourselves healthy year-round. Eating an orange or grapefruit won’t give you the “right” amount of vitamin C you need to help fight off your cold. A truly healthy immune system depends on a balanced mix of vitamins and minerals over time, plus normal sleep patterns, staying hydrated, and regularly exercising.
With some exceptions, it’s best to get your vitamins and minerals from your food, rather than supplements. Here are some tips for getting the top foods and nutrients your immune system needs to help you stay healthy this upcoming winter.
Like any hot liquid, soup helps you to stay hydrated and raises the temperature of the airways, both of which are important for loosening secretions. It can also help you feel less congested and helps keep you hydrated when you’re feeling under the weather. Try this creamy—and surprisingly low in fat—chicken and wild rice soup with a few added chili peppers to help loosen your nasal congestion even more.
Yogurt, which contains probiotics or the “good bacteria,” may improve digestion and boost your immune system by fighting harmful bacteria. Increased amounts of lactic acid bacteria, which ferments the lactic acid found in milk, can suppress the growth of pathogenic bacteria, which can help reduce infection. Look for brands that contain live cultures (with the “Live & Active Culture” seal), which are a good source of probiotics, as well as key nutrients like calcium.
Green and black tea provide antioxidants (polyphenols and flavonoids) that have been associated with immune-boosting effects. One laboratory study showed that catechins, a particular type of polyphenols in tea, may kill influenza viruses. One of the polyphenols found in green tea, EGCG, has a powerful ability to increase the number of regulatory T-cells that play a key role in improving immune function, according to a 2011 study in the journal Immunology Letters. To maximize benefits and minimize bitterness, drink 2 to 3 cups daily, using just-below-boiling water while steeping the tea for a minute or two. Add a little lemon and honey to help offset the bitterness.
Researchers at the University of Copenhagen found that Vitamin D triggers the body’s T cells, which help destroy invading bacteria and viruses. Vitamin D deficiency is also linked to increased autoimmunity and susceptibility to infection. If you have low vitamin D, most experts recommend a vitamin D supplement. Fatty fish, such as salmon, shrimp, and eggs contain vitamin D. Fortified juice, cereal, milk, and yogurt are also good sources of vitamin D.
You probably know about vitamin C’s connection to the immune system, but did you know you that this antioxidant can get it from much more than just citrus fruits? Leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, and papaya are also excellent sources. In fact, vitamin C is in so many foods that most people may not need to take supplements unless a doctor advises it.
A 2010 study found that mice that ate low-fat diets with soluble fiber for six weeks recovered more quickly from bacterial infections than mice that ate a low-fat diet higher in insoluble fiber. β-glucans, a type of soluble fiber, have been shown to have an immune-strengthening effect. Soluble fiber is found in oats, apples, pears, beans, citrus fruits, carrots, and barley. If you feel like preparing a dish, try this tasty, fiber-rich wild mushroom and barley risotto recipe to help boost your immunity.
Mireille Najjar is a second-year NUTCOM student who enjoys green tea and peppermint hot chocolate on these cold, wintery days.