It is getting colder now, so the cold and flu season is upon us. I have 2 kids in school right now, and their classmates are constantly coming to school sick. So far, my family has been able to avoid catching any of these bugs, and I attribute most of it to our eating, sleeping, and water drinking habits. I have compiled a pretty extensive list here of the top foods for boosting your immunity. Try to ad as many of these to your family’s diet before you get sick, and enjoy the fall and winter!
Water – This is probably the most important if you ask me. Without enough water in your diet, your body can’t flush all of the germs and viruses out of your system properly. Try to drink at the very least 8 – 10 glasses a day. Once the heat goes on, we tend to dehydrate faster, and because we aren’t sweating as much, we don’t feel the need to drink as much water.
Mushrooms – Mushrooms are probably the most overlooked of the immune boosters. They contain the mineral selenium and antioxidants. In cases of severe flu, there has been a noted deficiency of selenium which helps white blood cells produce cytokines-proteins that help clear flu viruses out of the body. Also, the B vitamins riboflavin and niacin, found in mushrooms, play an important role in a healthy immune system. In traditional medicines from around the world, mushrooms are an essential piece to maintaining a healthy immune system. Animal studies have also shown mushrooms to have antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-tumor effects. “Studies show that mushrooms increase the production and activity of white blood cells, making them more aggressive. This is a good thing when you have an infection,” says Douglas Schar, DipPhyt, MCPP, MNIMH, director of the Institute of Herbal Medicine in Washington, DC. Don’t like mushrooms? Here is a great mushroom pill that I give to my family, and really does the job: Maitake Defense
Oysters and Fish – This one was a surprise to me while I was researching for this post. Oysters are one of nature’s best sources of zinc. Zinc has an antiviral effect, and is very important to many immune system functions, including healing. Also, like mushrooms, selenium is plentiful in shellfish especially oysters, lobsters, crabs, and clams. Salmon, mackerel, and herring are rich in omega-3 fats, which reduce inflammation, increasing airflow and protect lungs from colds and respiratory infections.
Cabbage – This is a great source of immune-strengthening glutamine. And cabbage is in season right now. It also provides extra antioxidants and boosts your meal’s nutritional value. You can also get cabbage from sauerkraut for a double dose of immune boosting. Sauerkraut also contains live cultures like yogurt for a healthy digestive system.
Low Fat Yogurt / Kefir – Try eating a cup of yogurt, or a small bottle of kefir every day. Make sure that the one you purchase says “live and active cultures” on the container. Also look for vitamin D. Recent studies have found a link between low vitamin D levels and an increased risk of cold and flu.
Almonds – A 1/4 cup of almonds may boost your immune system from the effects of stress. A recommended 1/4 cup serving contains almost 50% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin E, which is a great boost for the immune system. And, like mushrooms, they have riboflavin and niacin, B vitamins that may help you bounce back from the effects of stress.
Garlic – packed with antioxidants, it can be eaten raw or cooked. One important tip when using garlic is to peel, chop and wait 15 to 20 minutes before using to activate the immune-boosting enzymes.
Green Leafy Veggies – Kale, spinach, and Swiss chard are immune-boosting foods that contain high levels of vitamin C, which not only packs a ton of powerful antioxidants, but can also help fight infection, and regenerate the vitamin E that is already in your body. These veggies also give you folate, which helps your body produce new cells and repair DNA. You can also get a good amount of fibre from these. Eat them raw, or lightly cooked.
Cruciferous Vegetables – Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, and Broccoli – One of the basics for immune boosting, they is full of nutrients that protect your body from damage. They contain vitamins A, vitamin C, and glutathione. Not only are these rich in antioxidant vitamins that give an immune system boost, but they also contain choline. Choline keeps your cells functioning properly and also helps support a healthy gastrointestinal barrier, keeping bacteria safely confined in the gut. Combine that with yogurt or sauerkraut which contain the live cultures that destroy that confined bacteria. Cauliflower is particularly important when you are already sick because it is rich in glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that helps fight off infection.
Orange foods – Sweet Potatoes and Carrots are very high in beta carotene which wipes out damaging free radicals and supports your mucus membrane, which lines the respiratory and intestinal tracts. This makes it harder for bacteria to enter your blood stream. Sweet potatoes also boast vitamin A, which is linked to slowing the aging process and may reduce the risk of some cancers.
Wheat Germ – Packed with nutrients, like mushrooms it contains zinc, antioxidants, and B vitamins. Wheat germ also offers a good mix of fiber, protein, and some good fat. You can sprinkle some wheat germ into your yogurt for a delicious immune boosting breakfast.
Soluble Fiber – unlike the fiber that is found in wheat, whole grains, nuts, and green leafy veggies, soluble fiber helps fight inflammation, and has been found increase the recovery time from a bacterial infection. Soluble fiber can be found in abundance in citrus fruits, apples, carrots, beans and oats.
Citrus Fruits – A great source of vitamin C to help boost immunity. But, more importantly, grapefruit is packed with flavonoids which are natural chemical compounds that have been found to increase immune system activation.
Oats and Barley – These grains contain beta-glucan, a type of fiber with antimicrobial and antioxidant capabilities. They boost immunity, speed wound healing, and may even help antibiotics work better.
Watermelon – Hydrating and refreshing, ripe watermelon also has plenty of a powerful antioxidant, glutathione. Known to help strengthen the immune system so it can fight infection, glutathione is found in the red pulpy flesh near the rind.
Tea – Both Green and Black tea are loaded with disease-fighting polyphenols and flavonoids. These antioxidants seek out cell-damaging free radicals and destroy them. Mix a bag of black or green tea with an herbal tea like echinacea for an extra boost of immune system warriors.
Cinnamon – Cinnamon is an antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial warrior, so it does more than just boost the immune system, it can actually fight the pathogens that are making you sick. I put cinnamon in my coffee every morning with some cayenne pepper to ad an extra immune boosting punch to start the day.
Cayenne – This wonderful spice stimulates those secretions that help to clear mucus from the nose as well as the lungs by cleaning the sinuses and making you sweat. When cayenne pepper is added to tea or coffee, it becomes useful in treating conditions of cold, cough and flu. Cayenne pepper aids in blood circulation, encourages blood flow and maintains proper delivery of vitamins to all areas of the body. It also ensures the removal of waste from the blood. Cayenne, like carrots and sweet potatoes is also high in beta carotene.