7 Foods To Ward Off Winter Illness

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Photo by Mehrpouya H of Unsplash

Navigating a season where the weather doesn’t always leave your immune system at an advantage can be challenging enough. Throw in a worldwide pandemic and you’ve got yourself a cocktail for compromised immunity. While many of us are bound to our homes, adjusting to remote work in a sedentary role, and trying to find a way to manage the new and unprecedented sources of stress, it is all we can do to remember to eat three meals a day. Now is the time of year where the treatment we show our body is of utmost importance. Below are a list of foods that will help boost your immune system and ward off the onset of illness this winter:

Citrus Fruits/Bell Peppers

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We have been told our entire lives that the best way for us to receive vitamin C is through either the sun or a Florida orange, but did you know that bell peppers contain nearly three times as much Vitamin C as citrus fruits? While you can’t go wrong with either source, it is important to take note in the fact that our bodies neither produce nor store vitamin C so it is up to us to provide our bodies with an amount sufficient for fighting off colds. It is recommended that men intake at least 90 mg of Vitamin C on a daily basis, while women want to ensure at least 75 mg each day, while trying to avoid surpassing 2,000 mg if combined with other nutritional or vitamin supplements. Foods such as grapefruits, clementines, tangerines, or the previously mentioned orange and bell pepper are excellent ways to ensure you are receiving enough Vitamin C on a regular basis.

Garlic

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Garlic is a great additive to introduce more flavor or zest in a dish, but few realize its infection fighting properties. While garlic has been proven to ward off infections due to its heavy concentration of sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin, it is also believed to slow down the hardening of arteries, making it an excellent source of improved cardiovascular health. In fact, one study showed that taking a garlic supplement daily reduced the number of cold participants experienced by nearly 63%! It has also been reported that the average length of a cold can be reduced from five days to only a day and a half so the next time you feel a cold coming on or suspect you are at risk of developing one, try adding more garlic to your meals.

Turmeric/Ginger

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Regular consumption of raw turmeric boosts the activity of your body’s own antioxidant enzymes. It blocks free radicals and stimulates your body’s own antioxidant defenses while improving one’s general ability to fight off viral infections. Ginger is a common ingredient that many people turn to when they begin to feel under the weather due to its ability to decrease inflammation while soothing a sore throat and improving nausea. In addition to these properties, ginger also comes with the active component, gingerol, which helps bolster your body from within to provide instant relief and encourages the relaxation of blood vessels. Fresh ginger might also be effective against the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is a common cause of respiratory infections. Not to mention, ginger extract can also inhibit the growth of several different types of bacteria. With that being said, ginger is a wonderful ingredient to incorporate into a daily regimen as its benefits far surpass just the cold and flu season.

Spinach

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Not only is spinach rich in Vitamin C, it is also packed with numerous antioxidants as well as beta-carotene, both of which are known to increase our ability to fight infections. Similar to broccoli, spinach is the healthiest when cooked as little as possible in order to retain its nutritional value. On the contrary, light cooking can help our bodies to absorb the Vitamin A, as it is released, more effectively. The vitamin A in spinach helps our skin and mucous membranes repel various kinds of bacteria and viruses.

Legumes/Seeds/Nuts/Shellfish/Meat

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Photo by Maddi Bazzocco

Zinc is what we are after with these food suggestions as it is perhaps the most essential nutrient when it comes to our bodies warding off viruses and infections. If you are exercising a meatless diet, be sure to supplement any deficits with nuts, seeds, and legumes. For nuts, try pine nuts, cashews, peanuts, and almonds. Lentils, beans, and chickpeas are not only high in protein, but they also come with a high count of zinc and other minerals that have proven to be beneficial for our bodies. In fact, 100 grams of cooked lentils contained roughly 12% of a person’s suggested daily intake value. If you’re looking to meet your zinc goal through shellfish, reach for oysters first as just 6 medium oysters contains 32 mg of zinc; that’s 291% of your daily value! Beef and chicken will have your highest zinc amounts when it comes to meat. Squash, pumpkin, and sesame seeds are believed to have the most promising amounts of zinc so the next time you’re reaching for a snack, avoid the processed goods and instead select from the list of foods mentioned.

Elderberry

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This stuff is a powerhouse all year round, but especially in the colder months when our immune systems fall most susceptible to the illness surrounding us. Many of elderberry’s health benefits can be attributed to anthocyanin, which is an antioxidant that works by clearing the body of free radicals that have the potential to damage cells at a DNA level. In a syrup form, it is believed to reduce the severity and duration of an infection when taken within 48 hours of the first symptom(s). Just last year, a study proved that the consumption of elderberry for body cold and flu significantly reduced upper-airway symptoms, something that is especially important for us with the current pandemic and its more serious symptoms. Please note: You must consume elderberry after it has been cooked as consuming elderberries in their raw form will make you ill.

Root Vegetables

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When you think root, you likely think carrots and potatoes, but there are a plethora of other vegetables that can serve your immune system well. Foods such as beets, turnips, parsnips, and carrots are all packed with the essential nutrients for the cold-weather months. In addition, winter squash also comes with plenty of fiber, beta carotene, vitamins C and B6 as well as magnesium. While we are on the topic of vegetables rich in immunity-building properties, let’s look at a few more. Brussels sprouts are an underrated vegetable, despite their high levels of vitamins K and C, in addition to folate, manganese, potassium, and B6. Fennel is a great vegetable to incorporate in a soup that not only comes packed with the previously mentioned nutrients, but also offers a stellar nutrient profile that includes iron, calcium, phosphorus, and copper. A fun fact about magnesium: nearly half of Americans show a deficiency in this nutrient, which coincidentally enough, can lead to increased levels of anxiety and irritability.

Catching a cold is easy, but treating your immune system like gold should be made easier. Encourage meals in your household that give your body the tools necessary to fight off the onset of illness this winter at an advantage. The pandemic is outside of our control as are many other things in this current chapter of our lives, but what is within our control is the food we choose to put into our bodies. If you are in a sedentary role, far too busy to make time for exercise, negating self-care practices, and avoiding inner dialogue, make sure you are showing your body love when it comes to each meal because it truly can make a difference and you deserve it.

Written by

Writer. Poet. Philomath. Dog Mom. Traveler. Creator. Wanderer. Teacher. Empath. Author of “Unapologetically Human” - available on Amazon

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