As your flannels, chunky sweaters, and cords come out of the closet, so too should your immune defense line-up.
Indeed, it’s not your imagination that you and your housemates, partner(s), and pals get sick more often in the cold-weather months than warm-weather months — research has shown that immune system performance lowers during autumn and winter, as a result of temp drops, increased precipitation and lack of vitamin D.
The good news: You can have some influence over the strength and effectiveness of your immune system. “Without a shadow of doubt, the lifestyle choices you make over the course of your life plays a significant role in determining the performance of your immune system and quality of your health,” says celebrity nutritionist and chiropractor Dr. Daryl Gioffre DC, author of Get Off Your Sugar. More specifically, eating nutrient-dense food, sleeping enough, and managing stress levels can serve to keep sickness at bay this season.
Ahead, a list of tips for keeping your immune system strong over the next few, cold months and beyond.
Immune-Boosting Foods for the Season
Anyone who’s ever had a grandparent shove a glass of orange juice at them the second they start to get sick, won’t be surprised to learn that the food you put in your body can help you fight infections that might want to take root in it.
As a general rule, the more nutrient-dense your diet is, the stronger your immune system will be, says general health practitioner Dr. Mo Janson, MD with Welzo. After all, there are a number of nutrients and antioxidants that are thought to support the immune system, including:
- vitamin C
- vitamin D
- vitamin E
If possible, it’s best to obtain these nutrients from food based sources rather than supplements, he says. “Eating a balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats helps ensure that you’re getting the necessary nutrients for immune function,” he says.
Easy Recipes for Immune Health
If you want to boost your immune-health, eating meals that contain a lot of immune system supportive foods and nutrients is a good move, according to Dr. Gioffre.
In particular, he recommends adding the following foods into your meal whenever possible:
- Healthy fats: Fats like avocados, macadamia nuts, almonds, walnuts, EVOO, avocado oil, coconut oil, MCT oil give body energy to maintain cell (including immune cell) function
- Dark leafy greens: Spinach, kale, lettuces, and sprouts are a powerful source immune-boosting nutrients
- Fermented foods: Fermented food like kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, and coconut yogurt contain probiotics that support gut as well as overall health
Eating for the season can also support immune health because doing so ensures that you’re consuming foods that are as rich as possible in supportive nutrients. During the Fall and Winter he recommends trying to incorporate in-season fruits and vegetables like sweet potatoes, parsnips, cauliflower, squash (winter, butternut, and spaghetti), avocados, green apples, pears, kale, fennel, broccoli, pomegranates, persimmons, beets, cabbage, endive, and sprouts/microgreens.
Ultimately, how you incorporate the above ingredients into your life is going to depend on personal taste. He suggests power bowls, soups, stews, and salads.
Immune-Boosting Drinks and Teas
If you’ve ever stepped foot in a smoothie shop, juice bar, tea shop, or health food store, you’ve probably seen beverages with catchy names like “immune boosting smoothie” or “immune defense shot”.
Well, many of these beverages actually do something! “Any drink that has ingredients that have been shown to have immune-boosting ingredients, can help support your immune system so long as they are consumed to complement a balanced diet and not as a primary source of nutrients,” says Dr. Janson.
Whether you prefer cold or hot, smooth or creamy, drinks, the below line-up of immune-boosting drinks and teas has something for you.
1. Green juice
If you have a blender and a collection of greens in your fridge, this veggie-forward immune-boosting bevvie is for you.
“Dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and sprouts are some of the most powerful foods on the planet because they are loaded with minerals like magnesium and potassium, and antioxidants that will strengthen your immune system from the inside out,” says Dr. Gioffre.
The problem with greens is that because of how much volume they take up in your belly, you can only eat so much of them before feeling full! Blending, then drinking, the greens allows you to consume more of the greens than you would in food-form, he says.
Your move: Throw a bunch of greens into your juicer, then throw the drink back.
2. Cucumber citrus smoothie
You only need three ingredients for this anti-inflammatory elixir: cucumber, grapefruit, and cilantro. “Together, these ingredients create a powerhouse blend that will boost your immune defense, escort toxins out of your body, and put a pep in your step,” says Dr. Dr. Gioffre.
To make it, simply throw 1 whole cucumber (peeled) , 1 grapefruit (peeled), and ½ bunch of cilantro into your juicer. “Liquid is not needed for this smoothie, as the cucumber and grapefruit provide enough,” he explains.
Pro tip: Add a pinch of sea salt on top for flavor and electrolytes.
3. Trifecta tea
“Lemon, ginger, and turmeric are a trifecta of anti-inflammatory superstars,” says Dr. Gioffre. Combining them — plus some black pepper — into a homemade tea with them will cleanse your lymph system, which boosts immunity, he says.
ICYWW: Black pepper has been shown to support your body’s ability to absorb one of the immune-boosting compounds in turmeric (called curcumin).
To start, bring a pot of 16 to 20 ounces of water to a boil. While water is boiling, peel the turmeric and ginger and dice it into small pieces (the smaller the better). Once boiling, remove the pot of water from heat. Next, add turmeric, ginger, and black pepper into the pot with water and simmer for at least 10 minutes. Squeeze a (non-boiled) lemon slice into the cup and enjoy.
4. Bone broth
Just as its name suggests, bone broth is a soup-like drink made from animal bones. It may sound a little gross, but the sippable beverage contains collagen, amino acids, and other vitamins and minerals that work over-time to lower inflammation in the gut and support the immune system, says Dr. Gioffre.
Your move: Save up the bones and the other connective tissues from your other animal-based home cooking in the freezer. Then simmer them in water for several hours. Or, buy the concoction pre-made in the soup or freezer aisle of most health foods stores.
5. Lemon water
This is the easiest immune-boosting drink of all to make — the only two ingredients you need are some water and a citrus fruit. “Water with lemons or limes infused into it has the same vitamin and mineral contents as orange juice, sans the sugar,” says Dr. Gioffre.
Indeed, while orange juice does have a high content of vitamin C which will strengthen your immune system, it also is higher in sugar content than is necessary. “When you consume one small glass of orange juice, you are actually getting the amount of fructose found in four oranges,” he says.
So while OJ may seem like a sick day staple, Dr. Gioffre recommends swapping it out for a little flavored water instead.
Habits for Immune Resilience at Home
At risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, anything that is good for your overall health, is going to be good for your immune health!
The idea of overhauling your entire lifestyle may feel a little daunting, so try implementing just these 3 lifestyle habits for better immune health instead.
1. Manage stress levels
“Stress is, hands down, the single biggest threat to your immune system,” says Dr. Gioffre. That’s because stress triggers the release of the stress hormone (cortisol) which, when chronically elevated, interferes with the production and function of immune cells and function, he explains.
Compounding this not-so-happy effect, is the fact that people have been shown to be more opt to reach for less healthy foods when they are stressed. “When we’re stressed, we stress eat — which means that we primarily reach for sugar,” he says. “The more sugar you eat, the more you crave, and the more sugar you eat the greater the energy crash and stress levels,, so it becomes a vicious cycle.”
Whether prioritizing immune health is the primary focus of your stress management or not, managing stress is essential for overall well-being and heath. “Breathing exercises are at the top of my list for relieving stress,” says Dr. Gioffre.
More specifically, he suggests a breath called the 4:8 extended exhale breath, which entails breathing in for a count of 4 and exhaling for a count of 8, for 20 times. “It can help move you away from the fight and flight grind of daily life, and stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you exit your stress state,” he explains.
2. Prioritize sleep
“Sleep is the time when your body repairs and regenerates,” says Dr. Janson. Indeed, it’s when your snoozing that your body makes cytokines, a protein that fights inflammation and infection, and white blood cells, which also help fight infection, says holistic health expert registered dietitian Edibel Quintero, RD medical advisor with HealthInsider.
If you do not get enough sleep — most people need 7 to 9 hours per night — it can lead to all sorts of breakdowns throughout the body, including immune symptoms response breakdown, Dr. Janson says.
3. Limit alcohol intake
Spiked hot chocolate may seem like the perfect winter beverage, but Quintero recommends against it. “The harmful compounds present in alcohol reduce the number of antibodies and good bacteria present in the body that work to keep your immune system functioning optimally,” he says.
Staying Consistent and Adapting
Sure, you might feel a little bit better after one night of sound sleep or one nutrient-dense meal. But to really reap the benefits, you need to prioritize these healthy habits day in and day out.
“It’s essential to maintain healthy habits like eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, managing
stress levels, and washing hands frequently consistently throughout the season to really reduce the risk of illness,” says Dr. Janson. Hey, there’s a reason they say consistency is king!
If you have trouble remembering to implement certain health practices, consider using things like alarms, phone reminders, calendar appointments, sticky notes, and the buddy system to help, he suggests. You might be surprised just how influential a ‘wash your hands’ sticky note and ‘bedtime reminder’ phone reminder can be.
As the weather cools and the sun continues to set earlier and earlier, do your immune system a favor by dialing in your lifestyle, as well as starting to immune-boosting nutrients, foods recipes, and drink into their daily routines.
Trust, the extra attention to detail will be worth it when its sub zero outside, but you still feel one-hundred percent.