I am sure every mom can relate—it’s cold and flu season, and at least one of my kids is sick each week. It seems like every cold and flu cycles through our home every winter. It’s tempting to look for external sources to keep our kids healthy, but it’s often best to return to our greatest form of defense: our natural immune system!
What we feed our bodies also fuels our immune system and prevents illness. I worked with Meg Kilcup, PharmD from @awholehealthlife to create this list of the best foods for immunity. Adding these foods to your family’s diet regularly will help improve your overall health, but incorporating them during cold and flu season in particular can help prevent illness.
Most fruits are high in vitamin C, which acts as a powerful antioxidant that strengthen your immune system, helps in the production of collagen, and fends off infection and inflammation. Kiwi is especially high in vitamin C, and one serving of camu camu powder has 10 x the vitamin C of an orange. Strawberries and oranges are also high in vitamin C—and they’re usually a big hit with kids!
Vegetables are rich in citamin C too, as well as beta-carotene. One medium-sized red bell pepper contains 152 milligrams of vitamin C, or enough to fulfill your daily need. Peppers are also a great source of beta carotene, a precursor of vitamin A (retinol). Vitamin A is important for healthy skin, your mucous membranes, and your immune system.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts contain nutrients which help contribute to the immune system, including zinc, copper, iron, selenium, and folate, and in the case of chestnuts, vitamin C. Almonds are rich in vitamin E, which is a powerful antioxidant that’s known for its immunomodulatory effects.
Meat has rich levels of many vitamins that strengthen the immune system such as vitamin B1 and B12, whose deficiency causes a reduction in the number of lymphocytes—but also chromium, a micronutrient present in trace amounts in our body that stimulates immune defenses and resistance to infections.
Herbs and spices
These contain various types of powerful nutrients that support the immune system. For example, the health benefits of garlic are caused by sulfur compounds formed when a garlic clove is formed, crushed or chewed. One is allicin, which increases macrophage production of TNF-α and nitric oxide. Garlic enhances the functioning of the immune system by stimulating certain cell types, such as macrophages, lymphocytes, natural killer cells, dendritic cells and eosinophils.
Another bonus: Garlic is really easy to incorporate into your diet because it can be used to cook so many dishes. Add it to a stir fry, pasta dish, or meat entree. You can even make your own immune-boosting wellness shots with garlic, ginger, turmeric, and black pepper.
Green tea is packed with flavonoids, which is a type of antioxidant. Where green tea really excels is in its levels of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), another powerful antioxidant. Green tea is also a good source of the amino acid L-theanine. L-theanine, which aids in production of germ-fighting compounds in your T cells.
How to use these daily:
- Smoothies are a great way to increase your daily fruit intake. I like to keep a large bag of mixed frozen fruit in the freezer to make smoothies with. Blend them up with some yogurt and water to make a creamy treat.
- Bell peppers with onion is one of my favorite things to make at the beginning of the week and add to dishes each day. Add them to eggs in the morning, or throw in some chicken sausage for a savory dinner.
- Add peanut-butter to your berry smoothie for a peanut butter jelly feel, or mix in some chia seeds with your oatmeal.
- Try adding shredded chicken to your favorite pasta dish the next time you make it.
- Don’t skimp on the spices! A large jar of pre-minced garlic keeps your life simple come meal time; scoop a large spoonful into any dish to add flavor and tons of health benefits.
- Brew a large pot of green tea at the beginning of the week and keep it in a large pitcher in the fridge. Drink it hot in the morning with some lemon and honey, or cool in the afternoon mixed with some lemonade.