Nothing puts a dampener on the holiday season quite like falling ill. This time of year is all about spending quality time with your friends and family – the last thing you need is a stuffy nose or a pounding headache to screw up your plans.
Unless you want to hibernate for winter, maintaining a strong immune system is the best way to stay healthy during the colder months. You can’t wrap yourself in cotton wool and sanitise everything in sight – so your best bet is to have a body resilient enough to fight off whatever comes your way.
The food that you eat is one of the most important factors when it comes to maintaining a healthy immune system. Combine that with adequate sleep, good digestive health and low stress levels, and you’ll be strong enough to shrug off virtually anything that the cold weather may throw at you.
With this in mind, here are 14 of my favourite immune boosting superfoods. Add them to your diet and stay healthy all winter!
#1 – Fermented foods
Did you know that 70% of your immune system is located in your gut? For this reason, it’s vitally important to take care of your digestive system in order to fight off illness and infection.
Fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kombucha are an excellent source of beneficial probiotics, which help to maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria in the gut.
If you don’t eat fermented foods regularly, I strongly recommend a high quality probiotic supplement to help keep your digestive system on top form.
#2 – Coconut oil
Coconut oil contains the short chain fatty acids lauric and caprylic acid, which have powerful anti-viral and anti-pathogenic properties.
Just a couple teaspoons of coconut oil each day are enough to reap the immune boosting benefits – you can use it for cooking, spreading, or even whizzing in your smoothies!
#3 – Berries
Berries are rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, but only recently researchers have discovered a new compound in berries called stillbenoids. In a study published in the US Journal of Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, stillbenoids were shown to increase expression of the Cathelicidin Anti-Microbial Peptide (CAMP) gene, which plays a direct role in healthy immune function.
Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are some of the most nutrient dense fruits around, so make a great immune boosting addition to any diet.
#4 – Brazil Nuts
Brazil Nuts are well known for their whopping selenium content – just four of these nuts is enough to meet your RDA of this mineral! Selenium deficiency is a major contributor to a weakened immune system, which make Brazil Nuts an excellent way to stay protected against illness.
#5 - Omega 3
Omega 3 has been shown to reduce inflammation and enhance immune cell function. Flax seed, chia seed and algae are all good sources of plant based omega 3.
#6 – Turmeric
As one of the most powerful antioxidants on the planet, it’s no surprise that turmeric consumption has been clinically proven to boost the immune system. Combine it with a warming spice such as black pepper or ginger for maximum benefits.
#7 – Garlic
Garlic has been used as a natural remedy for colds and flu for centuries, dating back to Ancient Greek times when patients were prescribed raw garlic cloves when suffering from flu like symptoms!
Garlic contains a unique compound called allicin, which has proven immune boosting properties, along with a rich sulfur content which has anti-microbial effects in the body.
In this large scale study, garlic consumption was shown to reduce the number of colds by 63% over a 12 week period!
#8 – Elderberry
Rich in immune boosting antioxidants and vitamins A & C, Elderberry has long been used as a seasonal health tonic. It also helps to alleviate mucus in the respiratory tract, which makes it an excellent remedy for coughs and blocked noses.
#9 – Ginger
In the practice of Ayurveda, ginger is known as vishabhesaj, which translates to ‘universal medicine.’ This fiery herb has been shown to significantly reduce inflammation and help to prevent against infection, and is also especially beneficial for the digestive system, helping to stimulate the secretion of digestive enzymes and improve the nutrient absorption of food.
Ginger is versatile and great for both savoury and sweet dishes, or freshly sliced to make a warming ginger tea.
#10 – Thyme
The aromatic compounds in thyme have been shown to accelerate the healing of infections in the digestive, nasal and respiratory tracts – making it an excellent tonic for colds, flu, bronchitis, and even candida.
Combine it with fresh garlic and season your roasted vegetables for double the immune boosting goodness.
#11 – Apple Cider Vinegar
Raw, unpasteurised apple cider vinegar is bursting with beneficial enzymes which help to detoxify the body of bad bacteria and promote an alkaline PH.
The acetic acid in apple cider vinegar helps to break up mucus around the body, whilst also cleansing the lymphatic system to help it effectively process and remove toxins.
A shot of apple cider vinegar can also be consumed before meals to improve the nutrient absorption of your food!
#12 – Echinacea
Echinacea is an extract taken from the Eastern Purple Coneflower native to North America. It was originally used by Plains Indians as a remedy for coughs, sore throats and headaches, but quickly shot to popularity in Europe when it became one of the first herbs to be the subject of clinical medicine trials.
Echinacea consumption in winter has been shown to protect against and shorten the duration of cold and flu viruses.
#13 – Reishi Mushroom
Reishi’s nicknames of ‘The Mushroom of Immortality’ and ‘The King of all Herbs’ tell you all you need to know about this prized commodity.
Reishi is extremely rich in antioxidants, and has unique compounds that up-regulate the immune system and improve energy levels.
Reishi mushrooms are so powerful, they are even used as a treatment for tumours and cancer.
#14 – Zinc rich foods (pumpkin seeds, chick peas, dark chocolate)
Last on my list is a collection of foods, all chosen for their high zinc content. Zinc is an essential nutrient for maintaining a healthy immune system, as insufficient zinc levels have been shown to slow down the immune response.
Furthermore, zinc also accelerates healing, with clinical studies showing that zinc can significantly reduce the duration of common colds. Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chick peas, dark chocolate and cashew buts all provide great sources of zinc!
Remember, diet has a big part to play in maintaining a healthy immune system, but it’s not the only thing to look out for.
A weak immune system is very rarely a result of just one factor – it is a system, after all, and requires a number of components to be in balance to work as well as it should.
Be sure that you are getting plenty of sleep, managing your stress levels and exercising regularly to really take your immune system to the next level!
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