The keys to a happier and healthier cold and flu season might be as close as your kitchen – or specifically what’s in your kitchen. In addition to regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and reducing stress, including foods rich in vitamins and antioxidants regularly in your diet is a great way to support your immune system. Before your next trip to the market, see our suggestions for what foods to include in your cart.
Citrus fruit like oranges, lemons and grapefruit are high in vitamin C.
Get Your Fill of Fruit
Bursting with vitamins, fiber and antioxidants, fresh fruit is an important part of a nutritious diet. Experts recommend that adults aim for at least four servings of fruit per day as a part of a healthy lifestyle. If you have the added goal of eating to support your immune system, know that some fruits are a better choice than others. Following are the fruits that should make their way into your grocery basket, and how they can benefit your immune system.
A category, rather than a single type of fruit, citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and grapefruit are a great source of vitamin C. Scientists believe that vitamin C increases the production of white blood cells, which are critical to fighting infections. Enjoy a broiled grapefruit – sprinkled lightly with brown sugar – at breakfast, or add slices of oranges to your lunch or dinner salad.
Another great source of vitamin C, one papaya has 235 milligrams – more than double the recommended daily allowance. This tropical fruit is also packed with vitamin A, potassium, and calcium – both vitamin A and calcium play an important role in supporting a healthy immune system. Add papaya to your morning smoothie, toss in a fruit salad, or enjoy slices as a mid-afternoon snack.
These little blue orbs contain anthocyanin, a flavonoid shown to strengthen your immune system. Blueberries are also a good source of other minerals and vitamins, including vitamin C. Sprinkle fresh berries over your morning yogurt, or bake them in muffins or a loaf.
Similar to papayas, this fuzzy fruit is packed with vitamin C – with one cup providing roughly 273% of your daily recommended intake. Nutrient dense, kiwis are full of vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, and fiber. Snack on the fruit whole – both the skin and seeds are edible!
Broccoli is packed with fiber, antioxidants and vitamins A, C, and E.
Eat a Variety of Veggies
Filled with minerals, vitamins and fiber, vegetables are another key component for a healthy lifestyle. Adults should try to have at least five servings of vegetables per day. As with fruit, some vegetables are a better choice than others. Here are the veggies that should make a regular appearance on your plate, and how they can benefit your immune system.
Red Bell Peppers
Oranges are considered the winners when it comes to vitamin C, but experts say the title really belongs to red bell peppers. One pepper contains almost three times as much vitamin C than oranges. Fold into your morning omelet, or mix into a stir fry or fajitas.
A staple in most kitchens, garlic is used to add flavor to a variety of dishes. It is part of the onion family, making it a vegetable. Garlic contains a variety of compounds, including alliin – which turns into allicin when it is crushed over chewed. Allicin contains sulfur, which researchers believes plays a role in garlic’s ability to help fight infections. Stir into your favorite dishes – just make sure you are using fresh garlic – not garlic powder.
This dark, leafy green vegetable is high in fiber, as well as vitamins A and C. It is also a good source of folic acid and calcium. If you aren’t a fan of cooked spinach, try adding baby spinach to your morning smoothie (trust us, you won’t taste it!), or fold into an egg scramble.
Similar to spinach, broccoli is packed with fiber, antioxidants and vitamins A, C, and E. Glucoraphanin is one of the antioxidants found in broccoli, and is converted to sulforaphane during digestion. Scientists believe that sulforaphane reduces oxidative stress and protects against chronic disease development – however additional research is needed. Extremely versatile, you can mix broccoli into a quiche or salad, or include in your favorite stir fry.
Nuts and Seeds, Please
Foods that support a healthy immune system aren’t limited to just fruits and vegetables. In fact, many of the vitamins found in fresh produce are fat soluble – meaning they should be consumed with a healthy fat to be properly absorbed. Following are the nuts and seeds (and some spices too!) that are worth adding to your diet, and how they can help your immune system.
Tiny, but mighty – sunflowers are rich in vitamin E, selenium and fiber. A powerful antioxidant, vitamin E is fat soluble and helps to protect cell membranes against oxidative damage. Include a handful of the seeds in your trail mix, or use your blender or food processor to make a delicious seed butter.
Used in both sweet and savory dishes, ginger packs a serious nutritional punch. Gingerol, the compound found in ginger has both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. In addition to helping relieve nausea, gingerol helps fight infections, and protects against oxidative damage. From stir fries to muffins, you can use fresh ginger in a variety of dishes.
Nutrient dense, almonds are rich antioxidants and minerals. They are also one of the best sources of vitamin E – with 1 ounce delivering 37% of your recommended daily intake. Since they are also high in healthy fats, they are perfect to pair with other fruits and veggies that need a fat to digest well. Include in your morning oatmeal, or slather natural almond butter on your morning toast.
A fantastic source of zinc, pumpkin seeds are also packed with antioxidants, healthy fats, fiber, and magnesium. Zinc is important for immune cells to function properly, and 1.5 ounces of pumpkin seeds provides about 20% of recommended daily intake. Sprinkle on top of your morning oatmeal, toss into a salad, or include in your next batch of trail mix.
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