I don’t know about you, but it seems like every holiday season I get a cold or the flu. Last year I got the flu right before a big Christmas party — I was so upset I had to miss it. If getting sick over the winter months seems inevitable, there are ways to prevent or at least lessen your sick days. Eating healthy, sleeping well, managing stress and exercising are just a few things that will keep you from missing your favorite holiday festivities.
Eating a balanced diet of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats and dairy is important for maintaining your health all year long, but especially during cold and flu season. But when the sweaters come out, comfort foods and tempting treats seem to follow. For many (myself included), this is the time of year our nutrition goes by the wayside, when in reality we should be more focused on eating healthy before the New Year and not after.
Contrary to popular belief, there are no magic pills or foods to immediately boost our immune systems. Instead, incorporating certain foods in a balanced diet can help ward off infection and sickness. Before you go buy a mega dose of vitamin C, try adding these functional foods to your diet — they may give your immunity a fighting chance.
- Leafy greens (i.e., spinach and kale) benefit your body because they contain vitamin C, iron, vitamin E and folic acid among many other vitamins and minerals. Adding spinach, kale or Swiss chard to smoothies, soups and eggs can enhance your immunity and nutrition.
- Nuts and seeds contain vitamin E, an antioxidant, which helps rid your body of free radicals that can make you sick. Eating a handful of almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews and/or Brazil nuts makes a great snack.
- Fatty fish (i.e., salmon, tuna, mackerel) is an excellent source of vitamin D, which keeps your bones and immunity strong. Since we don’t get as much sun in the wintertime, eating fatty fish is a great way to get the daily recommended amount (600 to 800 international units).
- Legumes (i.e., chickpeas and lentils) have vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, selenium and zinc. Adding legumes to soup is a smart way to boost your immune system while staying warm.
- Broccoli has vitamin C, iron, vitamin E and selenium, all of which aid in immunity. Broccoli is especially tasty in stir-fry dishes.
- Yogurt and kefir contain probiotics or “good bacteria” that keep your digestive system healthy. Much of your immune system resides in the gut, and probiotics fight off the bad bacteria that can cause illness. Try plain yogurt and kefir in place of flavored yogurt to help you avoid added sugars. Instead, add fresh fruit or your own sweetener to the plain flavor.