Although spring may be only a month away, February is the peak season for colds, flu, strep, and other illnesses to be rampant. Along with proper cold etiquette like sneezing into your arm and washing your hands, research has shown that a well-balanced diet filled with nutritious foods is your strongest defense. Certain foods are known immunity boosters that help the body fight disease and affect your body's ability to respond to threats like viruses, strep, and colds. When your immune system is strong, your body is better prepared to fight sickness. When your immune system is weaker, you are more likely to get sick and have a slower recovery. In this case, you are what you eat, so choose wisely.
Top 10 Immune-Boosting Foods to Add to Your Diet
While no single food is a magic cure when you're sick, eating a healthy diet full of vitamins and minerals that support your immune system can boost your immunity, which can prevent illness and help you bounce back sooner when you do get sick. According to immunologist Cassandra Calabrese, DO of Cleveland Clinic, "there's no doubt that a healthy diet improves your immunity to illness. What you put in your body is important for your overall health and immune system." Here are the top 10 foods to incorporate into your family's diet.
- Citrus fruits. Most citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, lemons, and limes contain high levels of vitamin C, which can help fight infection. Whether you eat them whole or squeeze the juice for a smoothie, Vitamin C can help prevent colds and flu and help you recover faster.
- Berries. From blueberries and blackberries to goji or açai, these bite-sized fruits are packed with vitamins and nutrients to boost immunity. Enjoy them in your yogurt, smoothie, or even salads; berries add a sweet treat to anything, even by the handful. Bonus: Elderberries are an old folk remedy used to fight off illness because they are loaded with antioxidants. Elderberry syrup has recently become a household staple found at most groceries stores.
- Fish oil. Fish with high levels of Omega 3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel, are known to increase white blood cells. These healthy fats help your immune system fight infection and are also good for your heart and brain.
- Greens. Spinach and kale deserve their own category because their high folate content helps your body build new cells and repair DNA. It also is packed with fiber, vitamin C, and antioxidants, which neutralize harmful free radicals in our bodies. Broccoli is supercharged with vitamins and minerals. Packed with vitamins A, C, and E, fiber, and many other antioxidants, broccoli is one of the healthiest vegetables you can put on your plate. Bonus: You can add greens into recipes and smoothies by blending them up until smooth and the kids will never know!
- Nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, and sunflower contain several vitamins and minerals (B-6, magnesium, phosphorous, and selenium) that help regulate and maintain your immune system. Make your own trail mix, sprinkle on your salads, or enjoy a handful for an energy-boosting healthy snack.
- Spices. Not only can you spruce up any dish with garlic, ginger, and turmeric, but these ancient spices that have immune-boosting properties to fight infection. Garlic contains a heavy concentration of sulfur compounds that may also lower blood pressure. Turmeric contains curcumin which may improve a person's immune response and reduce inflammation. So don't be shy when it comes to spicing up your dishes.
- Chicken soup. Whether it's mom's homemade or store-bought, chicken noodle soup is good for more than the soul. Poultry, such as chicken and turkey, is high in vitamin B-6. About 3 ounces of light turkey or chicken contains nearly one-third of your daily recommended amount of B-6, which is vital to forming new and healthy red blood cells. Plus, chicken breast contains carnosine that can protect your body from the flu virus. Warm soups also feel good going down and can help with sore throats and upset tummy's.
- Brightly colored vegetables. Citrus fruits are not the only source of high-vitamin C foods. Add brightly colored vegetables such as red bell peppers, which have even higher levels! Carrots are also a good choice because beta-carotene also helps boost your immune system.
- Yogurt. Loaded with probiotics (live and active cultures containing good bacteria,) this dairy or non-dairy treat helps create a healthy environment in your gut. It also contains calcium and vitamin D, which may stimulate your immune system to help fight disease. Bonus: Look for brands without added sugar and sweeten them naturally with berries and nuts for an immune-boosting boost!
- Dark chocolate. Yes, there really are health benefits to this indulgent dessert due to an antioxidant called theobromine, which may help to boost the immune system by protecting the body's cells from free radicals.
Getting your kids to eat some of these foods can be tricky. Leah Roethel, a Registered Dietician and mom of three, suggests making eating and cooking fun for kids instead of trying to sneak in fruits and veggies. You can
- Use food cutters to make shapes in fruits and veggies
- Make faces with the food on their plate
- Try using a toothpick they can have as a fun utensil
Need some inspiration for delicious immunity-boosting recipes? Try Seeded blueberry & banana muffins, perfect for school and work lunch boxes or slow cooker Chicken and Corn soup.