By Theresa Harding
Winter is the time to slow down, nourish the soul, and focus on strengthening our immunity. Eating seasonal fruits and vegetables allows us to do this as they are effective at being natural immune boosters.
By focusing on these top winter foods for your immunity, you create a natural defense against unwanted illness. Some additional symptoms are headaches, digestive issues, a weak immune system, and dry skin that can plague you in the winter months. Cold and flu season becomes less of a worry when your immune system is strong.
If you want to avoid succumbing to countless sniffles and colds during the colder months then there are many steps you can take. Keeping wrapped up when outside and making sure your home is warm is a must. You should also consider the types of foods you eat that will boost your immune system.
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When it comes to a winter diet plan, the goal is to adjust your diet to the current season. There are many benefits to eating this way. One benefit, being that foods consumed in the current season are nutrient-dense, will help to boost your immunity. Another benefit of eating foods in-season is that your body will be more in-line with the current season. This provides your body with a high level of nutrition.
For example, during the winter season, there are specific fruits and vegetables that provide many health benefits to your body, such as root vegetables. Root vegetables are a heavier food and your body needs more dense, rich foods to keep warm in the winter.
Of course, eating in-season also has financial benefits to your food budget. The foods sold in-season cost less because they are more abundant. When you purchase watermelon in the winter months, the price is higher than it would be when sold in the summer months.
Why? Because watermelon and other melons are summer fruits that keep your body cool during the hot summer months. You don’t need to cool your body during the winter months. There’s no benefit in being cold in the winter, right? Not only that, but the nutritional content of the off-season watermelon is lower.
Let’s not forget that eating foods in-season helps support local farmers and it also promotes balance with the resources of the earth and its lifeforms. We definitely want to embrace the natural source and diversity of the changing seasons rather than negating them. So stay in-line and grounded and this will help boost your immunity.
Of course, you’ll need to eliminate foods that will suppress your immune system such as sugar and processed foods. These such foods are loaded with artificial preservatives, colors, and other chemicals. A suppressed immune system means that it can take your body longer to heal from a cold or flu bug, should you contract it.
Missed days from work due to a cold or flu is no fun for anyone, as this could affect the income of some workers. As reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Common colds are the main reason that children miss school and adults miss work” each year.
Here are some foods you can add to your diet, either daily or at least a few times a week to help boost your immunity:
Garlic can be considered Mother Nature’s antibiotic. It’s known for its medicinal properties since ancient times. In investigating its beneficial effects, garlic is one of the most extensively researched products. It has acquired a reputation as a formidable prophylactic and therapeutic medicinal agent in the folklore of many cultures, over the centuries.
Garlic is known for the role in its antimicrobial, anticancer, antioxidant, immune boosting, anti-diabetic, hepatoprotective, anti-fibrinolytic and anti-platelet aggregatory activity and its potential role in preventing cardiovascular diseases, according to an article published by Science Direct.
It contains a whole host of beneficial components, one of which is called allicin, a potent antibacterial agent. Additionally, allicin has immune-enhancing effects by stimulating lymphocytes – a type of white blood cell. These white blood cells are key players in your body’s immune response.
As stated in research by the Journal of Molecular Medicine, “Zinc possesses anti‑inflammatory activity by inhibiting NF‑κB signaling and modulation of regulatory T‑cell functions that may limit the cytokine storm in COVID‑19.
Therefore, Zn may possess protective effect as preventive and adjuvant therapy of COVID‑19 through reducing inflammation, improvement of mucociliary clearance, prevention of ventilator‑induced lung injury, modulation of antiviral and antibacterial immunity. However, further clinical and experimental studies are required.”
Zinc is a metal required for all kinds of biological processes in your body. This micronutrient is involved in tissue growth and proliferation, and it’s important for normal brain functioning. For example, zinc regulates neurotransmitter release, which is vital for mood regulation.
Especially at this time of year, zinc is involved as your body copes with the threat of infection. It has been shown that zinc deficiencies result in a reduced immune response, or weak immune system, to invading pathogens. Zinc is also known to shorten the duration of a cold and flu virus.
Zinc is naturally found in protein-rich foods such as lamb, pumpkin seeds, grass-fed beef, chickpeas, cocoa powder, cashews, kefir, mushrooms, and spinach. I love to make my own pumpkin seed milk. Even though the color is not the most attractive-looking, the milk is very nutrient-dense. My favorite source is raw pumpkin seeds.
The benefits of onions are endless. To begin with, onions are often neglected as a health food but are usually a common ingredient in many staple dishes. Onions, especially red onions, are a wonderful source of flavenoids – plant compounds that have a whole range of antioxidants add benefits for your body and can boost the immune system.
According to research from Emerald Insight, “the organosulphur compounds in these spices scavenge oxidizing agents, inhibit the oxidation of fatty acids, thereby preventing the formation of pro‐inflammatory messengers, and inhibit bacterial growth, via interaction with sulphur‐containing enzymes”.
Though the evidence is somewhat mixed, some flavenoids found in onions have been shown to have anti-viral effects. Just like garlic, onions are very easy to incorporate into your diet. Try having them raw in a salad. They can also be effective at helping strengthen a weak immune system.
Ginger has long been used as an herbal medicine to treat various symptoms including vomiting, pain, cold symptoms and it has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-apoptotic, anti-tumor activities, anti-pyretic, anti-platelet, anti-tumorigenic, anti-hyperglycemic, antioxidant anti-diabetic, anti-clotting and analgesic properties, cardiotonic, and cytotoxic.
It has been widely used for arthritis, cramps, sprains, sore throats, rheumatism, muscular aches, pains, vomiting, constipation, indigestion, hypertension, dementia, fever, and infectious diseases.
Ginger is also great for relieving the feeling of nausea and vomiting if you are not well. Additionally, it can help prevent infection and boost your immune system. Ginger is incredibly warming on a cold winter’s day. That warming effect can act as a natural decongestant and it can also help to promote sweating, which is part of your body’s mechanism in fighting colds and flu.
Interestingly, sweat contains a potent anti-microbial peptide called dermcidin that may help fight off infections – which may be another reason why exercising regularly during the winter months to promote sweating can help to keep infections at bay.
Having a healthy digestive system is probably the number one thing you can do this winter to improve a weak immune system. It has been shown that exposure to beneficial bacteria as an infant improves health in later life, reducing infections, allergies and the risk of asthma or other autoimmune diseases.
Probiotics provide a unique solution for disease prevention and treatment. Modulation of the immune system is one of the most plausible mechanisms underlying the beneficial effects of probiotics on human health.
Research shows that probiotics have been found to enhance the natural immunity and balance pathogen-induced inflammation through receptor-regulated signaling pathways.
For sure, our hunter-gatherer ancestors would not have been exposed to the sterile, overly clean environments in their early and later years, like those of us who inhabit the developed world.
Foods rich in natural healthy bacteria that your body can make use of include yogurt, kefir, kimchi, kombucha tea, and sauerkraut. If you want an extra probiotic boost, then probiotic supplements, particularly those that contain prebiotics to feed the bacteria, are great for this time of year.
Curcumin, the active ingredient of turmeric, has been shown in the last two decades to be a potent immunomodulatory agent that can modulate the activation of T cells, B cells, macrophages, neutrophils, natural killer cells, and dendritic cells.
Like ginger, the curcumin in turmeric has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties; but it also has anti-microbial features too, combatting bacteria, viruses, and fungi. A great way to get turmeric into your diet is by adding it to your smoothies, cooked eggs, vegetables, or other favorite dishes.
This suggests that curcumin’s reported beneficial effects in arthritis, allergy, asthma, atherosclerosis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and cancer might be due in part to its ability to modulate the immune system.
I personally love to add ¼ tsp to my smoothies every morning and you can’t even taste it! Another way I add turmeric to my diet is to make golden milk with it.
Green tea is a beverage that has been consumed in Eastern cultures for centuries. It’s rich in phenols, with great antioxidant properties. Additionally, it’s useful to know that powdered green teas (matcha, for example) release their antioxidants much quicker than whole leaf teas.
The antioxidant benefits of green tea provide a whole variety of potential advantages – from protecting against heart disease to reducing your risk of cancer.
That aside, the antioxidants in green tea are beneficial in offering general support and adding strength to your immune system. Antioxidants protect against damage from compounds known as free radicals, which can keep your immune system healthy.
Honey has been known to have antibacterial properties for many years. As such, it is sometimes included in licensed wound care products. Since honey is thick and sticky, it coats your throat and provides a natural way to soothe soreness.
Honey has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, which help fight infections from viruses, bacteria, and fungi. The antimicrobial activity of honey appears to be due to its high sugar content, as well as hydrogen peroxide.
Studies show that honey is widely known for its antibacterial properties against H. pylori; however, the mechanisms of its antibacterial activity are not fully known.
Studies show that mushrooms increase the production and activity of white blood cells. They become more aggressive when fighting bacteria. Shiitake, maitake, and reishi mushrooms pack the biggest immunity punch and are great natural immune boosters.
These three mushrooms can be found in supplement form at your local health food store or purchased online at vitacost.com or iherb.com. I like to take them during the winter months as a preventive measure for that added protection.
Kiwi fruit is a great source of vitamin E! It helps protect your body from viral and bacterial infections. While the jury is still out on whether vitamin C helps boost immunity, kiwi has more of it than most citrus fruits, including oranges – and that can’t be a bad thing.
Staying hydrated fuels the cellular processes that keep your body moving and grooving. Hydration is also key for proper function of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell. I can’t say enough how so very important it is to drink your water daily.
“Water helps to carry oxygen to your body cells, which results in properly functioning systems. It also works in removing toxins from the body, so drinking more of it could help prevent toxins from building up and having a negative impact on your immune system”, as explained by Culligan Water.
Many of us don’t drink enough water and experience many symptoms of dehydration such as constipation, poor digestion, bloating, and gas. If you want to eliminate these conditions instantly, increase your water intake.
The winter foods listed above can definitely be seen as natural immune boosters, giving you greater results than over-the-counter drugs for healing colds and flu symptoms. We should always see food as medicine, as a way to treat the whole body, not just the symptoms.
What is your winter remedy for a healthy immunity?
Healthy Living isn't difficult. It requires an ongoing lifestyle change with patience and an open mind. I teach this mindset all the time. After 14 years of transitioning from an unhealthy lifestyle to a pain-free one, I think it's important to share my knowledge and research with those who are ready to make that shift in their health and wellness.