With winter around the corner, it’s time to begin thinking about your defense against the cold and flu season. One major thing that can de-rail your health and fitness goals quickly is catching a bug.
You may not think you’re at risk or that you already have good prevention strategies, but the fact is, most people do not take enough advantage of immune boosting foods. Most of us just rely on strong cold and flu medicine to hopefully get through the lurgies. Unfortunately, taking cold and flu medications often ends up prolonging the sickness or making a person feel worse in the long run.
Why not alternatively use some natural methods to not only shorten a cold or flu, but also to prevent it from happening in the first place? Try these evidence-backed ways to supercharge your immune system for this winter season:
1. Use immune-boosting spices in foods and drinks (ginger, cardamom, cloves and turmeric)
Adding these spices to your daily intake is one of the simplest, fastest and cheapest methods to lower inflammation and in-turn bolster your immune system against foreign pathogens. Adding just ½ tsp of these spices really does have the potential to make a large difference to your body’s antioxidant capacity (1). Try mixing sweet spices into morning oats and smoothies or adding savory spices to sauces and dips.
2. Add Nutritional Yeast as a topping for foods
If you have yet to hear of Nutritional Yeast, you’ll be glad to know that despite its unseemly name, it adds a delicious cheesy flavor to foods and in recipes. Research has shown that even just one spoonful per day improves immunity enough to reduce catching a cold by about 25% and even decreases the symptoms of colds for those who get sick (2).
3. Mix Chlorella into smoothies
Listen up athletes! For those training intensely for long periods of time (runners, cyclists, etc.). Supplementing with Chlorella has been shown to protect the body against exercise-related stress, which typically brings down the level of antibodies in the body (3).
4. Add Mushrooms to daily diet.
People have been using mushrooms for health benefits for thousands of years. Researchers found that 1 cup of cooked mushrooms everyday for a week can increase our white blood cell count by 50%! It was found that even after people stopped eating mushrooms, their immunity was maintained at this higher rate for up to a week later (4)! There are few foods or drugs that have this kind of power to radically boost our bodies defenses.
5. Eat 1 cruciferous vegetable per day to protect against bowel sicknesses (broccoli, kale, bok choy, cabbage…)
Those who may be particularly prone to stomach related sicknesses will want to know that cruciferous vegetables provide a special type of protection that lines our entire gut when we eat them. There’s a special chemical in these veggies called AHR Ligands and it beefs up our gut’s layer of immunity to fight off illnesses (5). So make sure to steam up some broccoli, chop some cabbage or stir fry some kale into the dishes you’re making!
6. Supplement with at least 1000 units Vitamin D per day.
This next dietary tip isn’t really related to the diet, just a simple supplement; Vitamin D. Most people don’t actually know that Vitamin D isn’t really a vitamin, but instead, it’s an anabolic hormone which has a variety of benefits all throughout the body, including immune boosting, muscle building and disease protection (6). Supplement regularly and get blood levels tested annually!
7. Eat kiwi fruit to fight the common cold
If you thought kiwi were just tasty, think again! Studies have shown that regular eating of kiwi fruit can reduce the risk of getting the upper respiratory infections like the common cold. Those eating 2 kiwi fruit per day in studies also seemed to have an illness time of about half as long as those eating other fruits. When supply begins to drop during winter, look for dried or frozen varieties too (7).
So while good hand washing and hygiene play a critical part in cold prevention, these super foods can have amazing effects too. Some will cut down risks of catching a cold, others will decrease your symptoms if you do catch a sickness and others will probably just keep you healthy all around. Be wise this winter and make sure you make these foods a part of your regular diet this season!
1. S. S. Percival, J. P. V. Heuvel, C. J. Nieves, C. Montero, A. J. Migliaccio, J. Meadors. Bioavailability of herbs and spices in humans as determined by ex vivo inflammatory suppression and DNA strand breaks. J Am Coll Nutr. 2012 31(4):288 – 294.
2. A Auinger, L Riede, G Bothe, R Busch, J Gruenwald. Yeast (1,3)-(1,6)-beta-glucan helps to maintain the body’s defence against pathogens: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, multicentric study in healthy subjects. Eur J Nutr. 2013 Dec;52(8):1913-8.
3. T Otsuki, K Shimizu, M Lemitsu, I Kono. Chlorella intake attenuates reduced salivary SIgA secretion in kendo training camp participants. Nutr J. 2012 Dec 11;11:103.
4. S. C. Jeong, S. R. Koyyalamudi, G. Pang. Dietary intake of Agaricus bisporus white button mushroom accelerates salivary immunoglobulin A secretion in healthy volunteers. Nutrition 2012 28(5):527-531.
5. M Veldhoen, V Bruchlacher-Waldert. Dietary influences on intestinal immunity. Nat Rev Immunol. 2012 Oct;12(10):696-708.
6. Grant, William B., and Michael F. Holick. “Benefits and requirements of vitamin D for optimal health: a review.” Altern Med Rev 10.2 (2005): 94-111.
7. D C Hunter, M A Skinner, F M Wolber, C L Booth, J M Loh, M Wohlers, L M Stevenson, M C Kruger. Consumption of gold kiwifruit reduces severity and duration of selected upper respiratory tract infection symptoms and increases plasma vitamin C concentration in healthy older adults. Br J