Some of your best defensive moves may be in your kitchen in the form of immune-supportive foods.
The cooler temperatures of autumn signal the beginning of the dreaded cold and fl u season. Missed workouts, lengthy doctor’s appointments, constant trips to the pharmacy, and chronic coughs can take a toll on your training. However, you can keep the bad bugs at bay by increasing your intake of immune boosting foods.
Vitamin C, beta-carotene, probiotics (good bacteria), and zinc have been touted as fierce fighters of colds and flu. Supplemental forms are available and can be useful especially for extra reinforcements when you feel weak—but for day-to-day maintenance, strive to get these nutrients via your diet by reaching for these healthy foods.
Grass-Fed Beef (zinc)
Grass-fed cows yield beef with more immune enhancing CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), beta-carotene, vitamin E, and omega-3 fatty acids versus grain-fed animals. Beef also ups your intake of zinc, which aids in the production of white blood cells that help fight infections. Use beef in your favorite chili recipe or as a protein-packed burger patty topped with sliced veggies. Zinc has become a popular ingredient in cold-fighting lozenges, but be aware of how many you use when illness strikes, as too much zinc (over 75mg per day) can inhibit immune function.
Red Bell Peppers (vitamin C)
Red bell peppers actually contain approximately double the vitamin C of oranges, while bringing a hearty dose of immune supportive beta-carotene and lycopene to your plate. Vitamin C helps maintain healthy skin (part of your body’s first line of defense), increases white blood cell and antibody production, and possibly decreases the length and severity of cold symptoms. In raw form, sweet peppers can be chopped and added to mixed green salads or tuna salad, or sliced and dipped in hummus. Sautéed with other cold and flu busters, including free-radical fighting onions and mushrooms, red peppers can create flavorful bases for many dinner entrees.
Yogurt and kefi r contain probiotics (healthy bacteria) that act like little soldiers patrolling your GI tract. When you don’t have enough good bacteria in your system, the bad guys can fl ourish, leading to an increased susceptibly to illness and disease. Approximately 70–80 percent of your immune system is based in your gut, so keeping a large number of friendly bacteria is an absolute must for optimal immune function. Consuming organic, plain Greek yogurt or coconut milk-based cultured beverages are delicious ways to do so. Probiotics are available in supplement form in most health foods stores if you do not consume dairy or dairy alternatives.
Sweet Potatoes, Pumpkin, Squash, Carrots (beta-carotene)
Infection-fighting beta-carotene is definitely in season. Cooler weather and the availability of seasonal produce beg you to get in your kitchen and start whipping up autumn dishes. Your body also converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, another strong immune enhancer. Too much vitamin A, however, can be toxic, so consuming foods with beta-carotene and letting your body regulate the conversion is a safer way to do things versus taking vitamin A supplements. Roasted sweet potatoes, carrots, and squash make great side dishes when seasoned with cinnamon, paprika, or cumin. To avoid dealing with a whole pumpkin (cutting, deseeding), use organic canned pumpkin, and add it to smoothies and yogurt.
Garlic, Tumeric (allicin, curcumin)
Not only do herbs and spices add amazing flavor to any dish you prepare, they also add a good kick in the pants to any cold or flu bug lurking in their path. Garlic’s infection-fighting active ingredient allicin can be given much of the credit for garlic’s immune-enhancing powers. Most beneficial in its fresh form (skip the dried powder that’s been sitting in your cabinet for months), it can be added to almost any type of cuisine. Turmeric, which is commonly found in curry powders and can be added to rice, quinoa, and lentils, has immune-enhancing abilities due to its powerful antioxidant curcumin. Using other flavorful herbs and spices, including black pepper, oregano, cinnamon, and cloves, will also add to your immuneenhancing repertoire.