Winter is here which brings the holidays, snow days, hot cocoa and unfortunately colds and the flu. Luckily nutrient-dense foods can strengthen your immune system to fight off those viruses and keep you and your family healthy and happy all season.
Here are my top 3 favorite winter immune boosting foods:
Winter squashes, such as butternut, acorn, spaghetti and my favorite – delicata. Squashes provide a load of beta carotene, an important antioxidant to neutralize free radicals. More related to immunity, beta carotene converts into vitamin A in your body. Vitamin A is an important nutrient for the immune system to fight off infections in our mucus membranes, which line your sinuses, lungs, and digestive tract. Viruses, like the flu, first come into contact with your body through a mucus membrane. So shoring up the defenses with vitamin A is one good step for staying healthy this winter. Eat up your orange foods: squashes, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and carrots. For an extra boost from straight vitamin A, that doesn’t need converting, switch up your fish oil to cod liver oil.
Bitter greens. You have bitter and sweet taste receptors in your gut, lung, sinuses and brain that influence cell function. The bitter receptors, stimulated by bitter foods, detect harmful bacteria and secrete antimicrobial substances to fight it. Sweet receptors, you guessed it – stimulated by sugar, suppress this action. Bitter foods turn on bitter receptors to help fight infections and sugar turns on sweet receptors while turning off bitter receptors and decreasing the fighting action. Bitter foods include dandelion greens, arugula, tot soi, mustard greens, collard greens, and watercress, plus other spices and vegetables wasabi, ginger, turnip, radish, and turmeric. The greens can be eaten raw in salads or sautéed. As a bonus, these greens also contain vitamin C which is a heavy hitter against colds and the flu since its antiviral, antimicrobial, and an antioxidant.
Garlic and onions. Another way to fight off the flu is by strengthening your microbiome, the trillions of organisms that live inside your body, mostly in your gut. These buggers protect the lining of the GI tract so invaders cannot get in (ie: the insidious flu virus), work hand in hand with your immune system to fight off invaders, and control inflammation so you don’t feel sick if a war is being waged. We ALL come into contact with the flu, but if your immune system and friendly microbiome are strong enough to fight it off you won’t feel a thing. Garlic and onions contain resistant starch that feed the microbiome’s “good” bugs so they can stay healthy and perform their jobs. Lentils, green plantains and potato starch also contain healthy resistant starch, or prebiotics. As a bonus, garlic is antimicrobial to fight off the “bad” bugs.
Happy eating and cheers to a healthy winter ahead!
Disclaimer: Nutrition therapy is not intended as a diagnosis, treatment, prescription, or cure for any disease, or as a substitute for medical care. Jen Marshall and Stacy St Germain are not licensed medical providers. Nutrition plans are not intended as a substitution for traditional medical care, nor should be interpreted as medical advice, but instead is an adjunctive and supportive therapy.