Ah, the Holidays. The perfect time for good meals, family gatherings, cozy sweaters, and unfortunately, the common cold. It seems like in the midst of Holiday shopping we are also searching for something that might shorten the duration of the bug that’s making its way around the family for the third time. Nobody wants to spend this season feeling under the weather! Proper nutrition can keep colds away and support your immune system to fight them more effectively! You may be thinking, yes I’ve heard of vitamin C, but there are many other nutrients that do a better job. These nutrients are most powerful when found in actual food where they are supported by enzymes, synergistic nutrients, and phytochemicals. Because of this, we will discuss food sources and of course, ways to enjoy them!
This vitamin is crucial for optimal immune system function! Vitamin D effects the immune system by helping your body recognize and extinguish pathogens. It’s so important in fact, that a deficiency is associated with increased susceptibility to the influenza virus!(1) This nutrient is one that can be found in a few food sources but can also be made by our own bodies when exposed to sunlight! Known as the “sunshine vitamin” it requires direct UVB rays, the ones that are strongest in the summer and nearest to the equator. Many believe that the reason there is even a cold and flu “season” is because most people have less of this important vitamin circulating around in their bloodstream. Obviously, colder weather equates to less sun exposure. To make sure you are getting enough Vitamin D without the sun’s help, include more fatty fish like tuna or sardines, fortified dairy products, liver, egg yolks and cheese. For people who live very far north or who spend very little time outside, it might be prudent to take a Vitamin D supplement, talk to your doctor to decide if that would be right for you!
This mineral is important to your immune system because it helps make white blood cells and create antibodies. White blood cells are the defense cells in your body that are required to mount a good immune response. Research has shown that having a deficiency in zinc decreases a person’s ability to fight off disease (2). Oysters are extremely high in zinc, but don’t worry if you aren’t a fan. Beef, chicken, crab and other shellfish are great sources as well. Zinc can also be found in smaller amounts in cashews, chickpeas, almonds, yogurt, and milk. Some breakfast cereals are fortified with zinc as well.
This fat-soluble vitamin helps your body fight off a cold a little differently than the other two nutrients. Vitamin A is necessary for maintaining healthy barriers to the outside world, specifically the mucosal lining of your nose, gastrointestinal tract, and even your skin. By strengthening your barriers, you are keeping pathogens out before they can make you sick. It’s a first line of defense! Interestingly enough, nature has provided a way to get high amounts of this vitamin by giving us winter squash at the exact time that colds start to invade! Winter squash is one of the most vitamin A rich foods. Carrots, dark leafy greens, bell peppers, and tropical fruits contain vitamin A as well.
Try including these important vitamins and minerals into your meals while also capitalizing on some of nature’s other immune boosting ingredients such as garlic, onion, ginger, and citrus fruits. To help keep you and your family free of sickness, here are some recipes that combine the powerful nutrients listed above into one delicious meal!
1.Aranow C. Vitamin D and the Immune System. J Investig Med. 2011 Aug; 59(6): 881–886.
2.Fraker P, King L, Laakko T, Vollmer T. The Dynamic Link between the Integrity of the Immune System and Zinc Status. J. Nutr. 2000 May; 130(5): 13995-14065