Immunity-Boosting Superfoods for Cold and Flu Season
With the cooler weather rolling in, cold and flu season is upon us. If you’ve ever reached for some vitamin C after coughing and sneezing, you may have wished you had thought about boosting your immune system sooner. Here we’ll break down the science around some popular buzzwords in nutrition.
How to Strengthen Your Immune System
Eating an overall healthy diet, packed with whole foods like lean proteins, healthy fats, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, is essential for a strong immune system. And remember to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, sleep well, try to reduce stress and exercise regularly. Limiting or avoiding alcohol and smoking also play a significant role in avoiding getting sick.
When you choose the whole foods that make up your diet, opting for foods packed with antioxidants may help boost your immune system.
What Are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are substances that can fight oxidative stress, cell damage and inflammation in your body. You can find these substances in natural foods, as they come in the form of vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients.
Too much oxidative stress can lead to illness, so eating foods rich in antioxidants may help fight diseases, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Which Antioxidants Boost Your Immune System?
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports the following micronutrients may have an impact on your body’s immune response:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Beta carotene
A 2022 study from the National Institutes of Health also shows that amino acids found in protein sources and omega 3 fatty acids found in fish can help boost your immunity and even help with fighting COVID-19.
Best Superfoods Containing Antioxidants to Boost Your Immune Cells
Now that you know which micronutrients to include in your diet, we’ll break down the top six categories of immunity-boosting foods and give you a few examples of each.
‘Eat the Rainbow’ With Colorful Vegetables
Did you know vegetables of different colors contain various immunity-boosting vitamins, minerals and nutrients?
- Green: Spinach, dark leafy greens and broccoli contain vitamin A, vitamin C and iron.
- Red: Red bell peppers are high in vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin A and vitamin E.
- Orange: Carrots and sweet potatoes are high in beta carotene.
Fruits are high in fiber and can satisfy a healthy sweet tooth while boosting your immune system.
- Citrus Fruits: Oranges, grapefruits, tangerines and clementines are rich in vitamin C.
- Berries: Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries contain tons of antioxidants, including vitamin C, vitamin K and manganese.
Eating complete protein sources gives your body important amino acids, including cysteine, which your body can convert to glutathione — a powerful antioxidant that helps fight illnesses.
- Chicken breast: Chicken contains amino acids, vitamin B6, selenium and zinc.
- Salmon: Salmon contains omega 3 fatty acids, which can boost your heart health.
- Tempeh and tofu: If you don’t eat meat, these plant-based proteins are packed with amino acids, iron and magnesium.
Nuts, Seeds and Dark Chocolate
Outside of meals, snacks and desserts can boost your immunity as well.
- Almonds: Almonds are rich in vitamin E and magnesium.
- Brazil nuts: Brazil nuts are a great source of selenium.
- Pumpkin seeds: Pumpkin seeds are loaded with magnesium, iron, zinc and vitamin E.
- Dark chocolate: Dark chocolate from cacao is an excellent source of magnesium and other antioxidants.
Add the following flavors to your meals or smoothies for an immunity boost:
- Ginger and tumeric: Ginger and turmeric can help fight inflammation.
- Garlic: Garlic contains antioxidants that may help fight the cold and flu.
Staying hydrated during the cooler months is essential to keep your immune system healthy.
- Water: Drink plenty of water, and add a lemon or lime for some flavor and a vitamin C boost.
- Green tea: Green tea contains antioxidants called catechins.
Mix It Up
When planning your menu for the fall and winter, choose your favorite items from each category to make nutrient-dense, immunity-boosting meals. A chicken soup with garlic, leafy greens and carrots can leave you feeling warm and well.
Remember that all of your daily habits contribute to a healthy immune system. But eating superfoods rich in antioxidants like colorful vegetables, fruits, proteins, nuts, seeds and extras like ginger, turmeric and garlic can help keep your immune cells healthy and strong all winter long.