Everyone is worried about getting sick this fall and winter. There are several steps you can take to stay healthy. Regular preventive measures such as handwashing, wearing a mask, social distancing, and avoiding people who are sick, can undoubtedly help reduce your risk for catching viral and bacterial infections. It is also essential to exercise and get a good night’s sleep. Although you may not be able to prevent any illness this season entirely, a healthy immune system is one way to give your body extra protection.
While no supplement can cure or prevent disease, mounting evidence suggests that eating certain foods can give your immune system a boost.
According to Liz Berman, registered dietician nutritionist at Acton Medical Associates, “Foods are the best way to get the proper nutrients to enhance your immune system. Eating a balanced diet rich in lean protein, fiber, grains, and lots of colorful vegetables will help support your body’s immune system. Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruit, and the rest with protein-rich foods, like eggs, chicken, fish, beans, and some whole grains like brown rice or oats. It’s good to limit processed food and sugar, too.”
Immune Boosting Foods
Here are some foods that will help build up your immune system:
Pumpkin, spinach, sweet potatoes, and carrots are all rich in vitamin A, an essential nutrient for immune function. Spinach is my personal favorite.
According to Ms. Berman, “It is easy to add spinach to salads and smoothies, or for a warm side dish sauté it with olive oil and garlic and squeeze some fresh lemon on top. These vegetables are also a great way to add fiber to your diet.”
Clementines, oranges, and grapefruits are a great “grab and go” source of vitamin C. Since your body does not naturally produce vitamin C, it is vital to get the recommended amount through your diet. Red bell peppers, brussels sprouts, and broccoli are also excellent sources of vitamin C. So chop up some of their colorful vegetables and make a yummy stir-fry and serve over brown rice.
Pumpkin seeds, toasted almonds, beans, lentils, and sprouted bread are a great source of zinc, a mineral that can help boost white blood cells, which defend against invaders. Sprinkle some seeds and nuts on your cereal and salads.
Yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and miso soup are foods that contain probiotics or “good bacteria”, which are known to help promote a healthy digestive tract and immune system. You can take probiotics in a hot or cold form, so it is easy to find something you like to get your daily allotment.
Drink plenty of fluids. We all know that it is important to drink at least eight glasses of water a day. When the weather gets colder, sometimes that’s hard to do. Try to drink warm drinks, like non-caffeinated teas; ginger and vanilla honey chamomile are a few of my favorites.
Immune Boosting Recipes
Boosting your immunity can be delicious, relaxing, and fun. Consistently taking good care of yourself is the best way to support your overall health. Here are some great fall recipes to get you started. — Kait’s Healthy Snackin’ Bars | Perfect Pumpkin Smoothie | Roasted Root Vegetable Soup
Kait’s Healthy Snackin’ Bars
- 1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- ½ cup dates
- ½ cup almond slices
- 1 cup rolled oats
- ½ cup pumpkin puree
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- ½ teaspoons baking soda
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1½ teaspoons cinnamon or pumpkin pie spices
- Optional add-ins: dark chocolate chips, raisins, chopped walnuts
- ¼ cup rolled oats
- ¼ cup pumpkin seeds
- ¼ cup toasted coconut shreds
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8x8 inch pan with parchment paper, leaving a little overhanging the sides of the pan.
- Put all ingredients in a food processor and combine very well. Scrape the sides of the bowl a few times and let the food processor run until the mixture is very smooth. Fold-in any add-ins you prefer into the mixture.
- Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan. Sprinkle any toppings on top. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes. Store in the refrigerator.
Serving size: 1 bars (Makes 16 bars)
Calories: 135 calories
Protein: 10.8 g
Perfect Pumpkin Smoothie
- pumpkin puree (1 15-ounce can)
- plant milk of our choice (almond, cashew, oat) (2 cups)
- ice (2 cups)
- maple syrup, to taste (2 tablespoons)
- vanilla extract, to taste (1 tablespoon)
- pumpkin pie spice (1 tablespoon)
- Combine all ingredients in the blender.
- Blend for 1-2 minutes, until smooth.
Per serving (1 cup)
Fat: 1.7 g
Protein: 3.7 g
Carbohydrates: 16.8 g
*Adapted from the Food Network
Roasted Root Vegetable Soup
- 4 cups peeled butternut squash cubes
- 2 parsnips peeled and cut in 2-inch pieces
- 1 sweet potato peeled and cut in 2-inch pieces
- 1 medium onion quartered
- 1 carrot peeled and cut in 2-inch pieces
- 8 cloves garlic — whole peeled
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne or pepper
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
- 4 cups low sodium chicken broth
- roasted butternut squash seeds optional garnish
- Pre-heat oven to 425 and line a baking sheet with foil.
- Place the first ten ingredients in a large bowl (butternut squash through cayenne) and toss until evenly coated in oil and spices. Scatter into a single layer and roast until vegetables are caramelized and tender, about 30-35 minutes.
- Remove vegetables from the oven and place in a high-speed blender or food processor. Add honey and pulse until smooth.
- Pour mixture into a large soup pot and stir in the chicken broth and plain yogurt. Heat over medium-high heat until warmed through. Check for seasoning and adjust accordingly before serving.
Optional: Lightly roast the reserved butternut squash seeds in olive oil, salt and pepper for 5-6 minutes while vegetables are roasting to garnish soup before serving.
Serving size: 8 ounces (makes 8 servings)
Calories: 160 calories
*Adapted from The Lemon Bowl
Health Works Here Podcast
Liz Berman, a registered dietitian nutritionist with Acton Medical Associates, explains how to use food to boost your immune system.
Subscribe to the Health Works Here Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and wherever podcasts can be heard.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kaitlin (Kait) Schuster is a senior at Noble & Greenough School in Dedham, Mass. She is an honors student, a nationally-ranked squash player, and active in her school and community. She works hard at eating right and staying healthy and fit.