How to Boost Your Immune System This Season
Updated: Jan 19
Cold and flu season is a pesky phase that we go through every year. This year, after two years of lock downs and masks, is especially aggressive - it seems like there is just a non-stop sickness going around! Although it may not be completely unavoidable for some people, especially parents of young children, there are plenty of things you can do to lessen your chances of getting sick or shorten the duration of a cold or flu.
Let's first talk about diet. We go from eating light and fresh meals all summer to a fall and winter full of comfort foods, family gatherings with desserts, Halloween treats and holiday baking. It's no wonder that our immune systems are under attack. Eating roughly 75 grams of sugar has been shown to decrease immune system functioning for up to 5 hours! This happens by weakening or stopping the action of white blood cells. To be more specific, our neutrophils are unable to engulf bacteria and viruses to remove them from the body.
In addition to sugar, we also want to limit our intake of wheat, dairy, and alcohol. All three cause inflammation in the body and weaken our immune systems. Instead, we want to focus on eating lots of raw and cooked vegetables, antioxidant-rich fruits, healthy protein sources and plenty of water! Hydration is key to flushing out toxins and keeping our bodies healthy.
Some of my top nutrition tips and practices that I follow to get my family through cold and flu season are to incorporate a lot of onion, garlic, ginger, and turmeric into meals. These are all super immune-boosting foods with anti-viral and anti-fungal properties. Combining them together when cooking creates a synergistic effect that enhances your immune system even more, in addition to making delicious, savoury dishes, like the ones in our programs.
Another one of my beloved super foods is bone broth. I always keep a bag of vegetable scraps in my freezer that I turn into homemade bone or vegetable broth. I always add fresh onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric, sea salt and pepper to really up the nutritional benefit. When I'm using bones, I will roast them first, if not previously cooked, and then I add a generous splash of apple cider vinegar to the broth to pull more nutrients out of the bones. This can be done in a pressure cooker or in a pot on the stove that you just bring to a boil and simmer for several hours. I freeze my broths in large mason jars and always have some on hand to cook with or drink straight. Once you start making your own homemade version, the store bought boxes will never suffice.
Making your own ferments is also easier than you think and way better than a store bought version. Incorporating fermented foods into your diet is a great way to add gut-healthy prebiotics and probiotics. All disease begins in the gut and keeping a healthy balance of good and bad bacteria is important to keep your immune system strong and healthy. You don't need to have fancy jars and equipment to make fermented foods either- all you need are some mason jars and patience! There are a lot of great resources online to help with troubleshooting through some common issues that arise with beginner fermenting, such as mould development. Don't be discouraged if you have to throw out the odd batch of coconut yogurt or sauerkraut - I've tossed my share of experiments gone wrong!
Another one of my top tips for cold and flu season is to make a batch of elderberry syrup. I use a modified version of this recipe from Wellness Mama. I find her version is a bit too sweet so I only use about 2/3 cup of raw honey. We take a spoonful most days as a preventative medicine and every few hours if we are sick. It's a great option for kids as it tastes delicious as well as being a natural and safe alternative to over the counter medicines.
My go-to supplements are vitamin C, vitamin D, omega-3, zinc, NAC, magnesium, oil of oregano, and echinacea. My kids just take the first three and a multivitamin every day. I could go into great lengths of the benefits of each one as they are all so beneficial, not just for boosting immunity but so much more. If you want more information on a specific vitamin or mineral let us know in the comments below!
Now of course, diet alone is not the only way to stay healthy this season. One of the most important things you can do to keep yourself healthy is manage your stress levels. This is easier said than done but such a crucial area to focus on. Stress damages your body and creates disease faster than a poor diet ever could. Some easy ways to manage stress are to practice deep breathing, get fresh air, exercise regularly- even if its just getting out for a walk or doing some mobility exercises, and of course, prioritize sleep. Try incorporating some of our sleep suggestions in this article. As I said, sometimes catching a cold is unavoidable, especially this year, but focus on your health and try some of these helpful tips to get through this season as healthy as possible!