As we gear up for fall and winter, many of us are preparing for shifts in routine, chillier temperatures, and less daylight. We’re also channeling high hopes that we can avoid catching the cold and flu bugs that are common with the change in season.
A multi-faceted approach to strengthening your immune system can help you build resilience. This includes getting ample sleep, managing stress, and maintaining good hygiene. A solid nutrition plan is also essential for building your immunity’s defenses.
With that in mind, these are a few key immune-bolstering foods to focus on during flu season. While they won’t guarantee health, they can support you on your wellness path and provide your body with key nutrients it needs to function at its best — and help ward off those seasonal illnesses.
Hearty, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli (as well as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower) are in-season this time of year, and provide an awesome dose of vitamin C, which has been shown to reduce the duration of colds and also help your body regenerate antioxidants that are important for your immune system.
Broccoli also provides vitamin E, which can help regulate your body’s response to infection.
Try serving broccoli alongside some healthy fats to help bolster nutrient absorption. It’s great tossed with avocado oil and garlic and roasted on high heat in the oven until the edges are bronzed. Or serve lightly steamed and topped with aged cheddar.
You could also try sneaking some broccoli slaw into your salad base to enjoy with your favorite olive-oil based dressing, pumpkin seeds, and avocado.
Shellfish such as oysters, crab, lobster, shrimp, and mussels are brimming with an important micromineral called zinc. Don’t let zinc’s categorization as a micromineral fool you, though: While the amount we need for optimal health is measured in milligrams, it plays a critical role in supporting healthy hormones and immune regulation.
If you have cooked shellfish at home before, it may seem intimidating initially. But with the right approach, it can be easy and convenient.
Shellfish tends to cook very quickly, so once you get used to a few recipes, it can be a great option on busy nights. Some of my favorites are a colorful shrimp stir fry or sheet-pan meals like this one that can be on the table in under 30 minutes.
Or perhaps a family clam chowder recipe is more up your alley. To keep things really simple, try oysters right out of the can. (I know a few brave people who really enjoy this!)
3. Fermented foods
The integrity and function of our immune system health is dependent on the health of our digestive lining. You’ve probably heard about the many benefits of probiotics and how they support the hundreds of thousands of beneficial bacteria that live in our gastrointestinal tract: We can get those probiotics through quality supplementation and the regular intake of fermented foods.
Common fermented foods include sauerkraut, kombucha, yogurt, kimchi, and kefir. When choosing dairy options (such as yogurt and kefir), be sure to opt for plain, as the added sugar found in flavored or fruited varieties doesn’t do any favors for digestive health.
Wild-caught salmon is considered a shining star when it comes to immune-supporting foods. It is a rich source of protein, vitamins B6 and B12, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA — all key nutrients to support healthy immune function.
I’ve worked with a lot of clients who report not liking salmon, only to discover that it’s the preparation methods or fish quality that are to blame. When shopping for salmon, aim for fresh, wild-caught (it shouldn’t smell overly fishy if it’s fresh).
When you have a good cut of salmon, a simple preparation is best. Try it pan-fried with pastured butter and lemon pepper in a cast-iron pan and served with some fresh dill and parsley. Try baking it in the oven with ghee, lemon slices, garlic, and capers — just be careful not to over-cook it. Salmon is done once it flakes easily with a fork.
If making it fresh is a no-go for you, you can easily sub canned salmon in for your favorite tuna salad recipe to switch things up.
When it comes to immune health, spinach is a perfect leafy green option that provides support with vitamins A and E, folate, and iron. It’s also an easy one to work into the plan thanks to its versatility and mild taste.
Several cups of spinach can easily wilt down for an easy side dish. Or serve it with your main entrée: Just cook up with olive oil, a dash of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice, and spices.
Baby spinach is an easy, delicate green to serve as a main salad base with pistachios, chopped apple, and balsamic dressing.
And for the most convenient way to work spinach into your plan, add it to a protein shake — you won’t even taste it taste (thought the color might change a bit).
We’ve shared before that for those who are willing to eat it regularly, meat provides several health and fitness benefits.
Of course, quality matters. Incorporating grass-fed beef is a great way to boost your intake of vitamin B12, zinc, protein, and iron — all key components to a balanced immune system. For those who are open to including beef liver, there’s an added bonus of vitamins A, E, and B6, as well as folate.
While organ meats are not commonly consumed in Western society, I’ve found that focusing on more traditional cuts of responsibly sourced beef from pastured, grass-fed cows is something many clients are heartily willing to try.
Consider trying grass-fed steak bites with peppers to get the nutrients provided by beef, plus the fiber and vitamin C from bell peppers. This time of year, try using the slow cooker to tenderize tougher cuts of meat (which are often more budget-friendly) to make a beef roast with colorful root vegetables, such as red potatoes, sweet potatoes, purple carrots, and turnips. If you toss everything in the slow cooker in the morning or midday, it’s an easy, mostly hands-free way to get a healthy, satisfying dinner on the table by evening.
The change in season can serve as a great time to pause and reflect on our eating routines. It provides us the opportunity to evaluate what we have coming up in the months ahead and plan out some recipes that will not only help us stay on-track, but also serve our health and fitness in the unique ways each time of year might demand of us.
With flu season upon us, be sure to prioritize nutrient-density and begin shifting your staple foods to those that are in-season and can provide you with the right immune support to stay happy, healthy, and resilient.