Walk down any “cold remedy” aisle at a grocery or pharmacy store and you’ll see a plethora of medications directed at numerous symptoms. It’s best to buy these ahead of your impending cold because the choices are overwhelming and deciding which box best fits your symptoms requires much brainpower, probably more than the brainpower available when you are fighting a nasty cold. I think what the endless options of over-the-counter meds goes to show is that we don’t have time for cold season. As moms, we’re not getting extra rest or catered meals or quiet time on the couch watching hours of Netflix. We still have to “mom” even when we feel crummy. Since we ain’t got time for that, we need a robust immune system to ward off as many cold germs as we can.
While it’s almost impossible to avoid all ailments this time of year, we can show up to the cold and flu season with a stronger immune system by adjusting our nutrition. Eating a diet high in fruits and veggies lends to an overall healthier lifestyle and helps to protect the immune system. Why fruits and veggies? They are loaded with the vitamins and minerals that support immunity. Here are just a few examples:
Vitamin C: You knew this one would be on the list, didn’t you? Vitamin C is an antioxidant, allowing immune cells to protect themselves from free radical damage. People who consume sufficient Vitamin C tend to have fewer colds and shorter duration of severe symptoms. You can get Vitamin C in tons of foods – so branch out! Enjoy strawberries, bell peppers, dark leafy greens, and Brussels sprouts. Oh, and no need to supplement. The body does better when it gets Vitamin C from food.
Vitamin A: Vitamin A is needed for the regulation of genes involved in immunity. Many of the body’s defenses against infection depend on an adequate supply of Vitamin A. To increase your intake, make a pot of creamy pumpkin soup or roast some orange sweet potatoes as a dinner side. Colorful veggies such as carrots and spinach are also a good source. Our milk is fortified with Vitamin A too to make sure we are not deficient. Just like Vitamin C, no need to supplement unless directed by your MD.
Vitamin E: This powerhouse of a vitamin is an antioxidant that helps your body fight off infection. White blood cells that fight diseases depend on Vitamin E. It can be found in walnuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, spinach, and vegetable oils. Flavor your greens with plant oils to help increase the absorption of Vitamin E.
Selenium: Selenium works with Vitamin E to limit the formation of damaging free radicals. It also helps to protect vulnerable body molecules against oxidative stress. You can find selenium in broccoli, barley, and nuts along with meats and shellfish.
Enjoying a colorful variety of fruits and veggies helps ensure that you are getting enough immune-boosting vitamins and minerals. Eating an apple (or pear or bell pepper or carrot or leafy green salad or sweet potato or handful of nuts) a day really does keep the doctor away!
Another way to fuel your immunity is to attend to the microbiome in your gut – the little bacteria bugs that inhabit your lower GI tract. Researchers are showing that healthier gut flora equals healthier humans. Your GI tract powers much of your immunity so it follows that a healthy balance of good bacteria can help improve your immunity.
Researchers have found that if you have dysbiosis (dis-bee-oh-sis) – an imbalance of the bacteria population in your gut, then you are set up to have a weaker immune system and are more likely to develop chronic diseases. I’m not on a first-name basis with the billions of bacteria living in my gut, and I am sure you are not either. So, how do you know if you have dysbiosis? How can you tell if you have more good bacteria and less offensive bacteria? There are tests available to do this, but you do not have to subject yourself to that. We have a pretty good way to tell…what you eat determines largely the types of bacteria in your microbiome. Researchers find that people who eat a typical western diet (high in added sugars, refined grains, solid fats and excessive sodium) tend to have dysbiosis. People who eat a moderate plant-based diet comprised of whole foods and probiotics tend to have a healthier microbiome.
You can improve your microbiome and prevent dysbiosis by cleaning up your diet and adding in foods that contain probiotics. Here are a couple ways to love your micorbiome:
Decrease the junk food. Replace sugary, salty, fatty snacks with whole fruits and veggies.
Limit fried dinner sides and opt for roasted veggies and potatoes, hearty grains such as quinoa and barley, or colorful salads.
Treat treats as treats. Enjoy your sugar as a treat rather than a steady stream of added sugar in your everyday foods. You can find out if sugar is lurking in your salad dressing, breads, crackers, cereals, peanut butter, shredded cheese (it’s even in here!), and more by reading the ingredient labels on your foods.
Add in probiotics: plain yogurt, keifer, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, miso, and kumbucha.
Tending to the bacteria in your gut can have a profound effect on your health, including your immune system! Bring your microbiome into a healthy balance with the foods you eat most often.
A healthy immune system can by yours with just a few tweaks to your nutrition routine. Give it a try and see if you notice a decrease in your trips to the cold medicine aisle.