How do you keep your immune system healthy and strong all year long? Here are a few strategies that will help you take on whatever cold or flu that may come your way.
BY: KATHERINE RATLIFF, MS, RDN
Nutrition is the foundation for a healthy immune system. When we provide our body with an array of balanced carbohydrates, lean protein, healthy fats, and plentiful micro- and phytonutrients, it has the energy and ingredients needed to produce an efficient and effective immune response.
Taking a large dosage of vitamin C or multivitamin during the onset of a cold or flu won’t do much good if you’re not nourishing your body with what it needs on a regular basis. Here are a few ways to prepare for the fight.
1. ADOPT A BALANCED LIFESTYLE
A healthy, balanced lifestyle is at the core of a strong immune system. Think of this as your “first line of defense”. This includes eating a balanced, nutrient-dense diet, daily physical activity, adequate sleep, stress reduction, and self-care.
2. CHECK YOUR VITAMIN D
Vitamin D protects more than just our bones. It is also essential for a healthy immune system. Research has found that individuals deficient in vitamin D may be more susceptible to catching a cold or the flu. For those living in the northern hemisphere, individuals don’t synthesize enough vitamin D from October through May to meet their needs due to the angle of the sun. In addition, only a handful of foods contain vitamin D, so supplementation may be necessary. If you’re unsure of your levels, get them checked next time you’re at the doctor’s. Talk to your health care provider about supplementing to get your levels back up to within recommended levels.
3. LOVE YOUR GUT
Did you know that approximately 70% of the immune system is located in the gut? More research has now focused on the role of the intestinal microbiome in immune function. Having a healthy and diverse balance of bacteria in the gut has been found to play a supportive role in a strong immune system. These bacteria play both physiological and protective roles, as well as produce certain compounds that help keep our immune system healthy and alert. Include a variety of food-based prebiotics and probiotics such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yogurt, miso, tempeh, and other fermented or raw pickled veggies for optimal digestive and immune function.
4. EAT THE RAINBOW
Colorful fruits and veggies provide a wide array of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. By providing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, these nutrients are essential for bolstering the immune system. Obtaining these nutrients through whole foods, rather than supplementation, provides greater benefit through the additive and synergistic effects of these phytochemicals.
5. TRY ELDERBERRY SYRUP
Constituents found in elderberry extract provide anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and antioxidant benefits. Research has found that elderberry extract, when taken at the first signs of a cold or flu, may have the ability to significantly reduce its severity and duration. How? Compounds in the extract can bind to viruses and prevent them from invading host cells. You can find elderberry syrup at most natural foods stores, apothecaries, and online. Alternatively, try making your own with the dried berries!
6. IMMUNE-BOOSTING SUPERFOODS
Feeling sick? Make friends with the superstars of the immunity world: ginger, garlic, honey, citrus, and chicken broth. These foods all have special super powers when it comes to boosting your immune system or mitigating cold-related symptoms. The key? You need to include these foods in therapeutic doses. We’re talking 1-2 inches of ginger and garlic, raw honey and citrus, and chicken bone broth.
Stay well, and fight on!
Adapted from the original article.
HEADER IMAGE: HANS VIVEK
Katherine Ratliff, MS, RDN is a Minneapolis-based Registered Dietitian with a passion for transforming food into simple, delicious, and nourishing meals. She believes the path to health and happiness comes from focusing on foods that help nourish, heal and grow. By focusing on the six pillars of health, Katherine helps others create vibrant and meaningful lives. To read more, visit her at At Katherine’s Table.