strengthen your immune system

One of the great things about studying nutrition is learning how different foods boost our immune systems and help keep us healthy. As a Certified Holistic Health Coach, I also understand that it is not just food, but also lifestyle adjustments that can strengthen our immune systems. Just because winter is best known as the cold and flu season does not mean we have to succumb. There are so many things we can do to nourish our bodies and stay well.

Each of us may have different needs and specific health issues, but for the general population, these are my top ten favorite recommendations for the season:

1. Keep your digestive tract healthy. Our goal is to be able to fully digest our meals and then absorb nutrients from food into our cells. We need a healthy digestive tract for this to happen. A delicious way to do this is to drink a cup of bone broth daily and/or make good old fashioned chicken soup. Your grandmother was right; chicken soup can help when you’re sick in addition to helping you stay healthy. These soups are full of collagen (great for the digestive system), amino acids, and loads of vitamins and minerals. The more vegetables you add, the better. Just make sure to use organic chickens and veggies.

2. Add winter squash to your diet. In addition to grandma, Mother Nature also got it right. Eating seasonally really does give our bodies the nutrients we need when we need them. Winter squash (butternut, acorn, pumpkin, etc.) are hearty, warming, and nature’s comfort foods. They are also anti-inflammatory and high in carotenoids, the precursors to vitamin A, a critical vitamin for our immune systems. They are also high in vitamin C, fiber, and a host of other minerals and nutrients.

3. Cook with garlic. Aside from adding wonderful flavor to a whole host of dishes, studies have shown that garlic can help prevent colds and flu. And, for those who do get sick, it can shorten the severity and duration of the illness. Chopping or crushing peeled cloves and then waiting about ten minutes before cooking or eating the garlic raw enhances its power. Garlic is high in several vitamins and minerals, but its sulfur content is what provides the punch. This is why garlic is such a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Plus, it’s great for strengthening white blood cells: our infection-fighting army.

4. Go yellow! Experiment with turmeric. Commonly used in Indian and other South Asian cuisine, I use this yellow herb liberally in all sorts of recipes. Curcumin, the main active ingredient in turmeric, works as an anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antifungal, and an antioxidant. Eating turmeric with freshly ground black pepper in a meal that contains a healthy fat enhances its absorption.

5. And green. Dark leafy greens are chock full of vitamins (especially C and K), minerals, phytonutrients, chlorophyll and fiber, which are all incredibly important to your health. A 2011 study showed they also help the immune cells in your skin and digestive system function correctly.

6. Spice up your meals with ginger. I keep ginger root in my refrigerator and add a slice to my morning smoothies, grate it and add it to stir fries, and also make ginger tea to drink whenever I’ve been around someone who is sick or if I think I may be coming down with something. Why do this? Ginger is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, helps with digestion, and also promotes sweating, which is important to both detoxification and immune health.

7. Think zinc. This mineral is vital to immune health. Found in abundance in meat, shellfish, and other animal sources of protein, it is also found in good amounts in pumpkin and hemp seeds, and cashew nuts. And dark chocolate! According to the National Institute of Health, zinc helps the body fight invading viruses and bacteria. Among many other important functions, it is also a key nutrient for thyroid health.

8. Vitamin C is tops. While many of us already know that citrus fruits are high in this super powerful vitamin, bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts are also great sources of this nutrient.

9. Bump up the blueberries. Blueberries can provide your body with an abundance of nutrients. Sweet, delicious and low in sugar, they are powerful antioxidants. Since they are not freshly available year-long here in the Northeast, try frozen berries and add them to your smoothies.

10. Drink up. Drinking plenty of filtered water every day is vital to overall health and the health of many organs and bodily functions. Even though the temperature has cooled, we still need to drink plenty of water. Heating systems are often dehydrating and we are still sweating at the gym. We also need water to help our digestive systems flush toxins and waste out of our bodies.

It goes without saying that washing your hands frequently, using hand sanitizers when you are out, and eating good quality food (minimize processed, refined and deep fried foods) go a long way in keeping us healthy!


Get enough sleep! Sleep is when our bodies regenerate, sort of akin to recharging one’s batteries. Most of us need around eight hours of good sleep each night. If we don’t get enough rest, our immune systems are weakened. And when our immune systems aren’t strong, we are more susceptible to invading viruses and germs.

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