Did you hear the news? Ugg boots are out; the sexiest thing you could flaunt this season is a good immune system (no Kardashian endorsement needed!). But, before you go bare handing a subway pole or recklessly sip water from a public water fountain- make sure you’re doing your part to keep your defense system strong. Getting enough sleep, exercising and managing your stress levels are important ways to keep your immune system happy and healthy, but good nutrition is also an important piece of the immunity puzzle. Add these 5 foods to your plate to keep your immune system in fighting shape.
1. Garlic: an immune system wake-up call
Garlic is great for a lot of things: scaring off vampires, flavoring your eggplant parm and as a natural antimicrobial. Add to the list: supporting a healthy immune system.
Garlic is full of bioactive compounds (chemicals that have health benefits), that act like an alarm clock for your immune system. The main bioactive compounds in garlic are flavonoids, which help rev up your immune system by cueing your body to release cells called macrophages that kill harmful invaders.
How can you harness the immunostimulant powers of this pungent veggie? Add it to a stir fry. Stir frying helps activate all those beneficial bioactive compounds.
2. Mushrooms: a beta-glucan “pick me up”
They’re earthy. They’re meaty. And they add a ton of dynamic flavor to any dish. They’re also the perfect thing to add to your plate at the start of cold and flu season. Mushrooms’ immune supporting benefits come from their beta-glucan content. Beta-glucans provide a ‘pick me up’ for your immune system and stimulate the production of disease fighting cells. In addition to being a beta-glucan powerhouse, mushrooms, when exposed to UV light, can be a great source of vitamin D, a vitamin that is essential for immune health.
Capture those cozy fall vibes by warming up your kitchen with some mushroom based recipes. Try adding oyster mushrooms to your ramen for some extra umami or sauté up some button mushrooms to add that extra bite to your favorite tomato sauce.
3. Red bell peppers: a vitamin C powerhouse
Bell peppers probably aren’t the first thing you think to put on your plate when sniffle season is in full swing, but they should be. Half a cup of red bell peppers contains over 100% of your vitamin C needs – an immune system stand out. It acts like an antioxidant and helps rally and protect the cells that make up your body’s defense system.
Vitamin C is water soluble, meaning it dissolves in water, so if you want the biggest vitamin C bang for your buck, crunch on some raw red bell peppers. Consider dipping them in some chickpea hummus for a bonus. Chickpeas are full of selenium, another nutrient that keeps your immune system running.
4. Elderberry: a sweet blend of antioxidants
From its flowers to its fruits, the elderberry plant contains a protective blend of immune supporting antioxidants. Certain elderberry extracts have been shown to help keep your immune system in fighting shape. Elderberry has a sweet flavor, so it’s most often found as a syrup. It can be added to drinks or used as a tasty topper for your morning oatmeal or pancakes.
5. Lentils: your gut’s high fiber bestie
Why is everyone suddenly talking about gut health? Your gut contains a very large community of very tiny bacteria that send important signals to systems throughout your body, including your immune system. In fact, your gut makes up about 70% of your immune system. So, one of the best ways to keep your immune system healthy is to take care of its command center- the gut.
Eating fiber is one of the best ways to make your gut a happy home for good bacteria. And one of the best ways to get fiber? Lentils. Half a cup of cooked lentils provides about 8 grams of the good stuff. That’s about 33% of the daily needs for women and 20% for men. Lentils are also a great source of B-vitamins and zinc. Two nutrients you’ll need to get enough of to give your body a fighting chance against unwanted invaders.
Add lentils to a soup for a warm dinner that’s perfect for cold weather and cold season.
Allie has a master’s in nutrition science from Framingham State University. She has worked as a Health Educator and Personal Trainer, and has a passion for helping people lead happier, healthier lives.