We’re officially entering that time of year where everyone seems to be sniffling, feeling tired and warding off flu bugs. Unfortunately, most of us probably don’t have the luxury of laying low and hibernating until spring.
However, boosting immunity can be easier than you think by staying on top of your sleep and eating antioxidant-and nutrient-rich superfoods. (You’ve got to eat anyway, so why not let your diet help your odds of beating illness, right?) We talked to Keri Gans, MS, RD, author of The Small Change Diet about the best immunity boosters to stock up on this season.
An orange a day keeps the doctor away? “What you’re looking for here, essentially, are antioxidant-rich foods.” Gans says. Oranges are definitely that, and are the perfect snack or complement to your breakfast cereal. While we’re not entirely sure if Vitamin C is the preventative wonder many assume it is, studies show it will help reduce cold and flu symptoms.
A great fall food and flavor, mushrooms are also immune-strengthening powerhouses. “They produce cytokines, which may help fight off infections,” Gans says. Shiitake are the most potent type of mushroom and the most versatile. Toss them in an omelet, whip into a sauce or eat as a side.
Go ahead and spice up your life…and your food. “These are added immune-boosters, because removing the water from a spice makes the vitamins and nutrients more concentrated,” Gans says. For instance, oregano is rich in Vitamin E, which may increase the body’s antibody response. Turmeric has a healthy dose of polyphenols and antioxidants to strengthen your system. Gans says you can easily throw a little more spice into your soups and chilis this winter or get creative. Think of it as sprinkling a little immunity fairy dust into your food.
The trace element zinc is essential for the immune system to function properly at the cellular level, and beef might be your best bet here. “I always tell my clients, ‘Yes, you can have that burger!’” Gans says. Red meat isn’t the enemy, and it’s high in vital nutrients, so “indulge” in moderation this season. Just avoid the other fat-laden add-ons like mayonnaise or bacon, and stick to the three-ounce serving as it has 30 percent of your daily zinc dietary needs.
Berries of any kind are loaded with antioxidants and are great immunity-boosters. “Toss in a smoothie, on a salad, on your oatmeal in the morning–the vitamins here are huge.” Gans says. Try acai berries as their dark color indicates that they are loaded with more nutrients like the antioxidants anthocyanins that can effectively fight aging and illness.
Gans says probiotics are hot right now, and for good reason: those live, active cultures will help your gut stay healthy. Particularly, the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri found in yogurt may help produce bug-fighting white blood cells. Opt for an eight-ounce serving at breakfast with berries, and you’ve got an immunity-strengthening meal that can’t be beat. Oh, and bonus: yogurt also has cold- and flu-fighting Vitamin D.
Gans loves garlic because it’s so easy to cook with! You can toss it in pasta sauce, sautee it with brussels sprouts or spinach, or mash it up with potatoes. “It contains a compound called allicin, which research suggests may fight infection and bacteria,” Gans says. What’s more? Just two raw cloves a day will give you those immune-fighting benefits.
“While I’m not a tea drinker myself, the flavonoids in both green and black teas may strengthen the immune system,” Gans says. The flavonoids work in conjunction with polyphenols, both antioxidants that seek out and destroy the free radicals that damage your cells. A further note on tea: researchers also found that people who sipped on five cups a day of black tea over the course of two weeks had a whopping 10 times more virus-kicking proteins in their blood than those sipping back a placebo alternative.