Although it’s too early to draw conclusions, data suggests that the 2018/2019 flu vaccine has been a good match against the main strains going around, and this year’s season is shaping out to be milder than last’s. Even so, the latest reports from the CDC show that the flu is still widespread across the U.S., and the season could extend until May. So we’re not quite out of the woods yet. Although my household has avoided the flu so far, we’ve still had our share of colds and stomach bugs in the past few months. Ugh.
That being said, we’re doing everything in our power to stay healthy, and eating well plays a significant role! While consuming a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables and protein is the best strategy for getting the nutrients you need, research has shown us that some nutrients in particular are important for a strong immune system. These immune-boosting nutrients include zinc, selenium, iron, copper, and vitamins A, C, E, B-6, and B-9 (folic acid). Probiotics have also been identified as potentially immune-boosting.
While it may be tempting to pop a multi-vitamin and call it good, the research is clear that when it comes to nutrients, whole food sources are best. So here is a list of 10 foods to include in your diet to ensure you are getting the nutrition you need to stay healthy during these long, cold winter months!
- Spinach – This favorite leafy green is high in iron, selenium, folic acid, vitamin C, and vitamin A. Throw it into a smoothie if you’re not fond of it otherwise.
- Red bell peppers – Did you know that red bell peppers are higher in vitamin C than an orange? Slice peppers into strips and eat raw with hummus or put into a stir fry for dinner.
- Sunflower seeds – These little seeds make an excellent salad topping or trail mix addition, and are high in copper, selenium and vitamin E.
- Garlic – The cold and flu-fighting benefit of garlic is thought to come from allicin, a compound that is formed when garlic is crushed or chopped. Studies suggest allicin may help prevent a cold or flu, and reduce its severity if you do get sick.
- Almonds – A handful of almonds makes a perfect mid-morning snack. Like sunflower seeds, they are high vitamin E, copper, and also zinc.
- Chicken or turkey – The notion that chicken noodle soup is good for a cold goes beyond the old wives’ tale. Poultry is an excellent source of zinc, selenium, iron, and B-6; all vital for a strong immune system.
- Salmon – Great source of selenium, B-6, and protein. Cooking salmon in parchment paper is my favorite preparation method.
- Broccoli – What’s a list of healthy foods if it doesn’t include broccoli? This darling of vegetables is high in vitamin C and folate.
- Dried beans – Cold, wintry days often beg for a warm bowl of chili or white bean soup. Make a big batch to enjoy all week and you’ll be supporting your immune system with extra iron and folate.
- Yogurt – Yogurt provides zinc, selenium, and probiotics, the good kind of bacteria that supports a healthy gut microbiome. Some flavored yogurts can be very high in sugar, so choose plain yogurt and stir in fresh fruit or a little maple syrup for sweetener. If you don’t eat dairy, get your probiotics from other sources like fermented vegetables or kombucha.
- Bonus: Oysters. Probably not a standard food choice here in Montana, but oysters are an incredibly rich source of zinc and copper. They can be a popular choice for Valentine’s Day, so if you’re planning to cook a V-Day meal for your sweetheart, consider adding immune-boosting oysters to the menu.
In addition to the nutrients we should be eating, there are also a couple that we should limit if we want our immune system in top form: sugar and alcohol. While saying that sugar suppresses the immune system may be an oversimplification, it’s still a good idea to moderate your intake. The same goes for alcohol. So if you’re getting low on sick days, consider skipping that drink or dessert and eating an extra handful of broccoli instead!
Finally, while nutrition is important, let’s not forget the power of frequent handwashing, adequate sleep, and physical activity. It’s also not too late to get a flu shot. Getting vaccinated is still proven to be the best way to prevent the flu.