We are now in the midst of cold and flu season. While our immune system works very hard to defend our bodies from disease-causing microorganisms, there are simple steps that we can take to help. Washing your hands is crucial to helping ward off the flu, but strengthening your immune system really starts with choosing to follow a healthy lifestyle year-round. Exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol, and getting adequate sleep are vital for promoting immunity.
In terms of diet, there are several vitamins and minerals that are known to help support the immune system. Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E and zinc are commonly known for their immune-boosting properties. A well-balanced diet should provide all of these nutrients in adequate amounts.
However, there are a few special foods that can help nourish the body and fuel your immunity this season:
This powerful beverage is packed with polyphenolic compounds known as catechins. These natural antioxidants can help prevent cell damage, protect against free radicals, and reduce inflammation. There is evidence to suggest that green tea plays a role in boosting immunity as well. Try swapping out a cup of coffee each day for green tea. If the taste seems too bitter, add a squeeze of lemon and a small amount of honey.
Garlic contains a sulfur compound known as allicin that has both antibiotic and anti-fungal properties. Allicin is released when a garlic clove is crushed or chopped. This compound is believed to fight infection and ward off bacteria. Try incorporating garlic in marinades or roasted vegetables for a warm autumn meal.
Red Bell Pepper
Did you know that a cup of chopped red bell pepper has nearly three times the amount of vitamin C of an orange? Most of us solely associate Vitamin C with citrus fruits, but there are a variety of other fruits and vegetables that are loaded with immune-boosting vitamin C. Some excellent sources of vitamin C include red bell peppers, leafy green vegetables, Brussels sprouts, strawberries and papaya. Try incorporating red bell peppers in a lunchtime salad or roasted in the oven.
Probiotics have been found to support immunity and promote healthy digestion. Kefir is a tart, yogurt-like drink that is packed with live and active probiotic cultures. Although kefir is a dairy product, it is fermented which changes the nutritional properties and makes it particularly beneficial for a healthy gut. Kefir is also high in protein and calcium. Try incorporating kefir into your diet regularly for healthy probiotics to benefit your gut microbiota. Consuming probiotics is important for replenishing healthy bacteria in the gut and protecting the body from infection.
There are countless foods that can help boost our immune system throughout the year. Focus on incorporating adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables during the day. Aim for a colorful assortment of produce to reap the benefits of a wide variety of nutrients and antioxidants.
Stefani Sassos, MS, RDN, CSO, CDN, CPT, is a clinical dietitian at The Cancer Institute at St. Francis Hospital. She also provides private nutrition counseling at her office in Great Neck. Visit www.stefhealthtips.com for more information or call 516-225-1745 to schedule an appointment.