As cold and flu season approaches, we all want to do our best to stay healthy and keep our immune systems working properly. Aside from good hygiene and sleep patterns, a flu shot can also help to decrease the likeliness of catching a cold or flu. However, you can also look to your diet to boost your immune system. Try adding these foods to your diet to help fend off cold and flu bugs in the coming months.
This cultured-milk beverage is loaded with probiotics which stimulate the immune system. Once consumed, they strengthen the intestinal lining (helping to keep harmful bugs out) and increase the activity of key immune system cells. And certain probiotic strains have also been shown to prevent cold and flu symptoms.
Try having kefir with your cereal, blend it in to smoothies, or simply have a glass. Although it has a thinner consistency than yogurt, you can substitute kefir for yogurt or buttermilk in dips, dressings and baked goods.
Vitamin C stimulates the production of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies, and also increases the release of interferon, a protein that stops viruses from replicating. Bell peppers are a great source of vitamin C – one medium red bell pepper has 152 mg, one medium orange bell pepper has 70 mg, and one medium green pepper has 95 mg. While the recommended daily intake for vitamin C is 75mg for women and 90mg for men, many experts believe 200 mg per day is optimal for disease prevention.
Where else can you get vitamin C? Try cantaloupe, citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, mango, strawberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower or tomato juice.
Vitamin D triggers and arms the body’s T-cells, which are cells that kill invading bacteria and viruses (including influenza). Salmon is one of the few foods that contains vitamin D, and is also a good source of protein and vitamin B6 (which aid in healthy immune function). Six ounces of cooked salmon delivers 890 IU of vitamin D, whereas one cup of vitamin-fortified milk has 100 IU.
Despite eating salmon regularly, adults should take a 1,000 IU vitamin D supplement daily in the fall and winter.
Brazil nuts contain selenium, which help to increase white blood cell counts, which destroy viruses. The recommended daily intake of selenium is 55 mcg for adults, and a single Brazil nut contains 96 mcg.
You can also get selenium from tuna, halibut, salmon, turkey, chicken, beef, pork, whole-wheat bread, sunflower seeds and eggs.
Natural sulfur compounds in garlic increase the production and activity of white blood cells, antibodies, and other natural killer cells. Garlic also has antiviral and antimicrobial properties.
Add garlic to soups, pasta sauces, stir-fries, chili, roasted vegetables and salad dressings. Roasted garlic cloves are great on pizza, or mashed with cauliflower or potatoes, or you can blend them into bean dips.
This is a great source of beta-carotene, a phytochemical that the body converts to vitamin A. Vitamin A helps to maintain a strong intestinal lining (a physical barrier against pathogens) and ensures cells of the immune system work properly. The beta-carotene content in one-quarter cup of canned pure pumpkin leads to the production of more than half of the recommended daily amount of vitamin A (477 mcg).
Blend pumpkin purée into smoothies and lattes, add it to oatmeal, soups and pasta sauces, and fold into muffin and pancake batters. You can also get your beta-carotene fix from carrots, sweet potato, cantaloupe, mango and leafy green vegetables.
Zinc is a mineral critical for the development and action of cells within the immune system, and oysters are loaded with it. Six medium oysters (about three ounces) provide 33 mg of zinc.
Other great sources of zinc include crab, beef, baked beans, black beans, lentils, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds and wheat germ.
Vitamin E enhances the body’s production of cells in the immune system and is thought to reverse some of the decline in immune function thanks to aging. One-quarter cup of sunflower seeds offers 12 mg of vitamin E (recommended daily intake is 15 mg).
Toss sunflower seeds into green salads and tuna or chicken salad, sprinkle it over hot and cold cereal or stir it into yogurt. You can even add it to a homemade trail mix.
Other sources of vitamin E include wheat-germ oil, almonds, sunflower oil, safflower oil, grape seed oil, hazelnuts and cooked spinach.