As the cold and flu season rolls in, it’s time to start focusing on boosting your immune system. By incorporating a diverse array of herbs, spices, probiotics, and essential vitamins and minerals into your diet, you not only strengthen your defenses against illness, but also potentially lessen the severity and duration of symptoms if we you do get sick.
In this post, I’m excited to share my go-to natural immune boosters for ensuring year-round health and wellness, but especially during these challenging months!
Probiotics & Prebiotics
By now, you probably know that probiotics and prebiotics are vital for good digestive health. Probiotic foods and supplements help to increase the amount of good bacteria in your gut, while prebiotics feed the bacteria in your gut and keep the good bacteria alive.
What do probiotics and prebiotics have to do with immunity? A lot. Here’s why: anywhere from 70 to 80 percent of immune system cells reside in the gut! The more gut-friendly foods you eat, the better protected your immune system will be.
My favorite gut-friendly foods include:
- Fermented foods like Greek yogurt, tempeh, sauerkraut, sourdough bread, and kimchi.
- Prebiotic fruits and veggies like green beans, wild yams, garlic, and peaches.
- Gluten-free whole grains like quinoa, oats, and buckwheat.
To ensure you’re getting enough probiotics and prebiotics each day, you can eat fermented foods (think kimchi, pickles, and ‘kraut) or foods with live cultures like yogurt and Kefir. This article highlights a few of my favorite supplements for gut health!
Herbs & Spices
Herbs and spices are commonly used to season the foods we eat and add a splash of color to our meals, but there’s so much more to them than simply coloring and flavoring our dishes. They’re also packed full of antioxidants and other immune-supporting plant compounds with antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties.
As Dr. Michael Greger states in his book, How Not to Die, our senses alone can help us to choose nutritious foods — herbs and spices included. The more flavorful, pungent, and colorful a food item is, the more beneficial it may be to our health!
Turmeric tops Dr. Greger’s list of herbs and spices, followed by fenugreek, coriander, cayenne pepper, ginger, peppermint, oregano, marjoram, cloves, amla, and cinnamon. Consuming just a quarter of a teaspoon of turmeric each day could help to reverse DNA damage; prevent and treat certain cancers; and reduce symptoms of inflammatory conditions like osteoarthritis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and lupus.
Adding a pinch of black pepper to your daily dose of turmeric is even better, as it helps the body to better absorb curcumin (the powerful plant polyphenol in turmeric that gives the spice its bright yellow hue). Other great herbs and spices include garlic, allspice, chili powder, bay leaves, cumin, and curry powder.
That being said, certain herbs and spices can be harmful if you go overboard — specifically poppy seeds, nutmeg, and cassia cinnamon (the most commonly sold cinnamon in the U.S.). A good rule of thumb is to incorporate a variety of herbs and spices into your daily meals in addition to working with an integrative dietitian (hello, it’s me!) who can help you to make safe dietary choices tailored to your specific needs.
Vitamin & Mineral-Rich Foods
A few years ago I wrote an article about the immune system-boosting benefits of filling your plate with foods rich in vitamin A (like sweet potatoes, spinach, and eggs); vitamin C (think bell peppers and citrus fruits); vitamin E (hello, collard greens and peanuts); and vitamin D (mushrooms, sardines, and salmon are some of my favorites).
In the article, I also talked about the important role magnesium and zinc play in keeping our immune systems strong. Whole grains, legumes, and tofu are excellent sources of magnesium, while zinc can be found in red meat, oysters, beans, and whole grains. Many people supplement with zinc when they feel a cold coming on, but it’s best to include zinc-rich foods in your diet each day!
Functional mushrooms are another superfood for immune health, especially reishi, cordyceps, lion’s mane, chaga, turkey tail, and shitake. Also known as medicinal mushrooms, you can work these natural immune boosters into your diet by adding them to sauces, soups, and stews (like this plant-based chili); sauteeing them in oil; or incorporating them in your favorite stir fry, risotto, and omelet recipes.
If you’re not a fan of eating mushrooms, you can still get your daily dose of medicinal fungi by sipping on mushroom coffee or tea (it tastes nothing like mushrooms, I promise!), seasoning your food with mushroom powder, or blending a teaspoon of mushroom powder into your morning smoothies. Check out my Supplement dispensary to shop for functional mushrooms in the form of supplements, powders, coffees, tinctures, and more!
Enjoy These Natural Immune Boosters for a Healthy Year
By making these natural immune boosters a regular part of your diet (and keeping these additional winter health tips in mind), you’ll prevent infectious diseases, improve your digestive health, and even decrease your risk of chronic medical conditions like cancer and diabetes.
Fortunately, my Nourish 21 program makes it super easy to increase your daily intake of nutritious foods like fruits, veggies, herbs, and spices. Get on the waitlist today!
Need some help developing a personalized nutrition plan for improving your health and immunity this year? Not sure what supplements to take or which herbs and spices you should be eating more of? Schedule a strategy session with me!