What can I do to support my immune system? I get asked this question constantly during the winter months! First of all, the immune system is very complex and there are so many factors involved in maintaining a balanced immune system— sleep, stress, environmental toxins, age, food, etc. There is no one food or nutrient that will dictate how your immune system is functioning or responding by itself. However, there are a variety of important nutrients that we know the immune system requires to function optimally and it can be beneficial to make sure you are getting enough of these on a daily basis!
Include more of these important immune supporting foods and nutrients to help stave off winter sickness:
Vitamin C is not THE answer to immunity despite what many might think, but it is an important vitamin to consider! Vitamin C deficiency can contribute to a reduced resistance against some pathogens. Adequate intake of vitamin C prior to getting sick might also help reduce the length of illness. Most people do not need to supplement with Vitamin C because it can easily be obtained from food (remember – food first! Always.). Great sources of Vitamin C include green leafy vegetables, strawberries, wild blueberries, bell pepper, brussels sprouts and citrus fruit. Because Vitamin C is water soluble and not stored in the body, you need to eat a variety of Vitamin C rich foods daily. Also note: excessive supplementation will not provide a benefit (you will just excrete the excess).
Zinc is closely involved with the immune system and the regulation of inflammation. Adequate zinc can help control and fight infections in the body. Your body does not store zinc, so it’s important to consistently include zinc rich foods to maintain adequate levels! Some of my favorites include oysters, legumes (chickpeas, black beans, lentils), meat and poultry (organic whenever possible!), nuts and seeds.
Vitamin A deficiency is linked with a reduced ability to resist infection. Include more Vitamin A rich foods on a daily basis including sweet potato, carrots, dark leafy greens and bell pepper.
Okay – this is the exception to my “food first” philosophy. The most absorbable form of Vitamin D comes from the sun, which those of us who live above the 36 latitude line can’t get from about October through May. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with an increased susceptibility to infections and autoimmune disease. During the winter months, I recommended supplementing with D3. I take 2000 IU/day for maintenance, but higher doses may be required to correct deficiency. Check with your dietitian or healthcare provider for specific recommendations.
Anti-inflammatory herbs and spices
Herbs and spices are amazing chemical compounds and powerful modulators of inflammation. Utilizing you spice cabinet can help support all of the work that your immune system is doing on a daily basis to protect your body and remain in balance. Include more herbs and spices such as cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, thyme and rosemary.
Last but not least – probiotics! 70% of the immune system is found within the lining of the gut, so as you can imagine, the bacteria in the gut are very closely involved with the regulation of inflammation and immunity. Recent research has shown that supplementing with probiotics may hep fight the common cold and upper respiratory infections. Because gut health and the bacteria in our guts are closely involved with so many important bodily processes, I recommend including probiotic rich foods on a daily basis. Some of my favorites include yogurt (organic & unsweetened is best!), kefir, sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables.
Immune boosting almond butter smoothie
1 frozen banana
1/2 cup frozen wild blueberries
1/3 cup plain unsweetened greek yogurt (2% fat recommended)
1 tbsp cacao powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1-2 tbsp almond butter
2 handfuls of spinach
1 cup unsweetened almond milk. Increase or decrease amount to desired consistency.
Blend ingredients together in a high speed blender. Add more liquid until you reach your desired consistency.