Wintertime calls for a responsive and resilient immune system to fight off colds and flu. To boost your resistance to seasonal illnesses, look to the foods you eat for help. Vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, and probiotics all work to boost both innate and acquired immunity.
Choose Kale for Vitamins
Kale packs a punch of Vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps reduce inflammation inside the cells and makes them less prone to immune-system busting bacteria. Enhancing your meals with kale gets you that much closer to five cups of fruits and vegetables per day, the recommended minimum. If the crunch of raw kale (in a lemony salad, for example) doesn’t excite you, it’s okay to “hide” it in your favorite dinner dishes, such as casseroles, soups and stews, or even macaroni and cheese. Try our recipe for Kale Chips.
Choose Turkey for Minerals
Certain minerals prevent the breakdown of essential fats in cells, which in turn reduces oxidative damage, which can lead to the development of disease. Iron assists in this process by regulating white blood cells and keeping your counts adequate for a strong immune response. If your iron stores become low, your red blood cells carry less oxygen, which results in fatigue and makes you more prone to illness. To get sufficient iron, look to the heme-iron form. Heme-iron, found in animal protein sources, is more easily absorbed than non-heme iron, which is found in plant foods. The dark meat from turkey is an excellent source of heme iron. Plus, it’s easy to prepare and just plain delicious.
Choose Legumes for Amino Acids
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. All cells, including white blood cells, which fight infection, are made of substantial amounts of protein. Legumes, such as lentils, black, garbanzo, or cannellini beans, pack a lot of protein. They are high in fiber and promote satiety and weight loss. So go meatless occasionally, and give legumes center stage. Trying mashing cooked lentils with an egg, form patties, coat them lightly with whole-grain corn meal, and then grill to make lentil burgers. Or combine baked acorn squash with lentils, carrots, and cumin. For the perfect cold-weather meal, try our hearty lentil soup recipe.
Choose Salmon for Fatty Acids
Heart-healthy fats reduce inflammation in the body and prevent harmful bacteria from causing illness. Salmon, a type of fish that is in season all year long, provides heart-healthy nutrition in the form of omega-3 fatty acids. In addition to boosting immunity and cardiovascular health, omega-3 fatty acids protect against symptoms of depression, dementia, cancer, and arthritis. Here’s a trick: Bake it on a square of brown paper cut from a shopping bag, and then placed on a foil-lined cookie sheet. The paper will absorb the juices, and make it easier to handle.
Choose Yogurt for Probiotics
Your intestines are filled with bacteria that are essential to the body’s healthy function. Probiotics, a type of healthy bacteria, augment that population of important bacteria, and strengthen the immune system’s ability to fight infection. The probiotic, “Lactobacillus,” commonly found in yogurt, has been shown to do just that. Look for yogurts that say "live and active cultures" on the label to reap the greatest benefit. Enjoy yogurt in a meal or as a snack — top it with whole grains or choose plain yogurt and add your own choice of fruit to reduce your intake of sugar. Sugar increases inflammation in the body, thus decreasing immunity.