Temperatures are about to start dropping (if they haven’t already where you’re at). For me the change in weather typically heralds the sound of coughing throughout the office and extra bottles of hand sanitizer popping up in community areas.
Sometimes it’s unavoidable. You’re going to touch something that the flu virus is chilling on and you’re going to get knocked down.
But there’s a lot more besides hand-washing that you can do to give your body’s natural defenses their best shot at keeping you healthy during cold and flu season.
The best source for vitamins and minerals is natural, whole foods. Supplements are designed to do just that; supplement. They’re there to fill potential gaps, but generally shouldn’t be used as primary source of nutrition.
Here are some ideas for things you can incorporate into your diet to boost your immune system naturally:
- Juicing, particularly with vegetables and anti-inflammatory spices. Think spinach, ginger, and turmeric. Anti-inflammatories help with things like sore throats and muscle aches. Dark green veggies like spinach and kale are loaded with vitamins and antioxidants. Have you ever juiced spinach? If you’re someone who doesn’t like the idea of choking down a large salad, you can get the benefit of a few handfuls of spinach in four ounces or less, depending on your juicer.
- Raw vegetables. If you’re not a fan of juicing but you’re okay with veggies, they are most nutrient-dense when raw. Throw together a salad that’s actually interesting with broccoli, red bell pepper, and fresh garlic. Red bell pepper actually has more vitamin C than citrus fruit, and broccoli is likewise packed with vitamins (remember the thing about the dark green veggies?). Fresh garlic produces compounds that are great for your immune system when minced or crushed.
- Fruit salad with a twist. If you’re sick of eating oranges and choking down Emergen-C, and bell pepper doesn’t float your boat, papaya and kiwi are great sources of the stuff. Dice some up and toss together in a fruit salad.
- Tea, black or green. A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences back in 2003 demonstrated that tea helped the body respond five times faster to bacterial infection. Fun fact: Back in college whenever I came down with something I would trade in coffee for black tea just because it tasted better when I was under the weather. I would go through five or six cups throughout the day and typically fought off any illness without needing a trip to the doctor. Anecdotal to the extreme, but this one resonated with me for that reason.
- Red meat and shellfish. Both are great sources of zinc, which increases production of white blood cells and antibodies to fight infection. Also, the body isn’t capable of storing zinc, so it relies on daily consumption through the food we eat. As with all micronutrients, be careful; too much can be as dangerous as too little.
- Shitake mushrooms. Mushrooms in general are fantastic for adding flavor to a dish and making it a little bit heartier, but they also can contribute to increasing the activity of white blood cells. Shitake mushrooms are especially known for this.
Your lifestyle as a whole can reflect how well your immune system will function. In addition to diet, it’s important to get enough sleep, alleviate stress, get enough exercise, and stay hydrated.
It sounds like a long to-do list, but it’s really not. Your health should always be your priority. None of us have time to deal with being sick! Take a few preventative measures to give yourself a better chance of avoiding it!