No one plans to get sick, and it always seems like a cold or flu hits at your busiest times. While you can’t completely avoid germs (unless you want to avoid public places altogether), there are many ways to amp up your immune system so your body is ready to fight back. Taking care of yourself by sleeping 7-8 hours per night, managing your stress, regularly exercising, and eating a well-balanced diet will set you up for success. But if you’re looking for a little extra boost, fIll your fridge with these foods (and drinks) instead of reaching in your medicine cabinet.
- Red pepper: It’s well established that vitamin C plays an important role in your immune system. While the well-known citrus fruits provide plenty of this cold-fighting nutrient, red pepper has nearly three times the amount of vitamin C at 100 percent of the recommended daily value in only ⅓ of a cup. Plus, it offers 30 percent of the daily value of vitamin A, another key vitamin for keeping you healthy, compared to only 9 percent in a cup of orange. Some other foods that are an excellent source of vitamin C include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and dark leafy greens in the fall and winter. In the warmer months, papaya, strawberries, and pineapple are also good sources of vitamin C.
- Sweet potatoes: A good source of vitamin A, sweet potatoes — along with winter squash, carrots, and cantaloupe — provide your immune system with the tools to fight infection.
- Fermented foods: Kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, and other fermented foods contain probiotics — the good kind of bacteria for your gut. Since nearly 70 percent of your immune system lives in your gut, keeping a balance of good bacteria can help you fight the bad ones that come your way.
- Garlic, onion, and leeks: The sulfuric compounds in these alliums have been shown to increase immune function. Alliums also act as a powerful prebiotic — food for probiotics, which play a role in a healthy gut and immune system.
- Pumpkin seeds: Rich in zinc, a mineral that plays an important role in immune function, pumpkin seeds (or pepitas) are a great snack or salad topper. Zinc has also been shown to reduce the duration of the common cold if consumed at the first sign of symptoms. Other food sources of zinc include oysters, lentils, chickpeas, and cashews.
- Turmeric: Curcumin, the active compound found in turmeric is known for its anti-inflammatory benefits and it may also have immune-boosting properties. Never cooked with turmeric before? Add it to soups or eggs, or sauté with your greens. Read here for a few more ideas.
- Water: Staying hydrated helps your body remove waste and toxins, which may help in fighting off infections. Enjoy a hot cup of tea or bowl of soup to warm you up and melt away a little stress, which can also help keep you healthy!
In addition to the above foods, filling your plate with an abundance of colorful fruits and vegetables is your best safeguard. They offer many immune-supporting nutrients, and the more variety you eat, the better defenses you will have.