As the dog days of summer fade into the crisp air of autumn, we spend more time indoors close contact with others. Between the limited access to natural sunlight, the recirculation of air via central heating systems, and heavily touched items (like those shared crayons at school or communal coffee pot handle at work), there’s no denying that “cold and flu season” is just around the corner.
The truth is, these germs are circulating all year round, but during spring and summer when we have plenty of sunlight, access to more time outdoors, and the lovely bounty of summer produce, our immune systems tend to be much better at warding them off and keeping us healthy.
Before you resign yourself and your children to weeks of suffering “the crud,” let’s look at some readily available foods that can help keep your immune system in tip-top shape this fall.
- Bell Peppers—When we think of vitamin C, we tend to think of citrus fruits. However, bell peppers have more than 200% of your daily vitamin C requirements (nearly 3 times more vitamin C than the same serving of oranges)! They are also packed with vitamin A, B6, folate, and a slew of antioxidants that support immune function.
- Garlic— The sulfur compounds in fresh garlic, most notably, allicin, have been well known for centuries. In a 12 week study, a daily dose of garlic reduced the number of colds by 63% and reduced the length of cold symptoms by 70%. Freshly chopped garlic seems to show the most benefit.
- Ginger— Closely related to another nutritional powerhouse, turmeric, ginger’s powerful medicinal properties come from it’s main bioactive compound, gingerol. This compound is responsible for much of ginger’s anti-inflammatory effects. It’s long been known that ginger is helpful for nausea, indigestion, and other digestive complaints, but studies are also showing that gingerol can inhibit the growth of bacteria and viruses such as RSV.
- Broccoli—Another vitamin C heavy hitter, this cruciferous vegetable has twice as much of the vitamin as oranges by weight. The sulfur compounds also help to support the immune system and slow the growth of cancer cells. Additionally, broccoli is rich in vitamin K and calcium which are important for bone health (this has nothing to do with immune function, but it’s good to know!).
- Oats—These grains contain beta-glucan, a type of fiber with antimicrobial and antioxidant capabilities shown to be more potent than echinacea!
- Pumpkin— A staple harvest of the autumn months, pumpkin is high in vitamin C and the carotenoid beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body which triggers the creation of white blood cells that fight off infection.
- Mushrooms—These edible fungi contain a range of B vitamins as well as the antioxidant selenium. Both work together to prevent damage to the cells which supports the immune system. When mushrooms are grown in natural sun light, they are also one of the few non-animal sources of vitamin D. Optimized vitamin D levels have been shown to protect against colds, influenza, bronchitis, and pneumonia.
- Lemon—Yet another source of our immune system’s best friend, vitamin C, lemons have been shown to help reduce bronchial hypersensitivity. Getting enough vitamin C (from various sources, like lemons), has been shown to decrease the severity and duration of respiratory infections.
- Pumpkin Seeds —High in the nutrients magnesium and zinc, pumpkin seeds support the immune system in several ways. Magnesium is a key player in over 300 biochemical interactions. It supports everything from muscle and nerve function, to bone health, to immune function. Zinc, on the other hand, stimulates the activity of at least 100 different enzymes in the body. It is crucial for controlling and regulating immune function. Pumpkin seeds are also rich in the amino acid tryptophan which is important in the production of serotonin (hello mood booster!!).
- Blueberries—These little gems are rich in flavonoids—a class of antioxidant. Studies showed that they made adults 33 percent less likely to catch a cold than those who did not eat flavonoid-rich foods daily. If you’re unable to get fresh blueberries during the fall/winter, frozen are great to have on hand!
**Please note that these foods are not only excellent for supporting your immune system, but have a wide range of other health benefits! Blood pressure reduction, cholesterol reduction, Type 2 Diabetes prevention, stroke prevention, cancer prevention, cardiovascular protection…the list goes on! These are also just SOME of the amazing plant foods that support immune function.