Illnesses like the flu virus and the common cold have always peaked during the winter. Even childhood illnesses like chicken pox, which are virtually nonexistent in the summer, populate through elementary schools when it’s colder and classes are back in session. Yet the idea that cold weather is the culprit might be a misconception.
The exact reason why infections flourish in the winter is still debatable, but one of the most widely recognized factors is an increase in human contact and closeness. Plus, our bodies receive fewer vital nutrients — like sunlight — in the winter months compared with sunnier and warmer months.
In the summer, we get more vitamin D from being out in the sun, which strengthens our immune systems. In the winter, we’re more likely to stay indoors and away from any sunlight — often crammed together in malls, airports, or homes. While spending time with friends and family can do wonders for our sense of connectedness, it also makes us much more susceptible to catching a cold or the flu.
While the cold weather certainly doesn’t help, protecting yourself this cold and flu season requires more than just staying warm. You need to be vigilant about keeping your body’s defenses up, and that requires getting enough of the nutrients your body needs to effectively fight off illness.
Eating Through the Cold and Flu Season
Vitamin D isn’t the only thing your body and immune system need in order to stay strong. Here are seven essential foods you can keep on hand to improve your chances of staying healthy throughout cold and flu season:
There’s a reason why chicken soup is so well-known for its healing properties. Traditionally made with bone broth, this old-fashioned comfort food is made with the bones and marrow of pasture-raised animals like chickens, cows, and lambs. The broth is packed with vitamins and minerals that strengthen the gut, which is the epicenter of the entire immune system.
Similar to bone broth, foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt, and apple cider vinegar are also beneficial to your gut health and immune system. Fermented foods add to the billions of healthy microbes that make up your gut’s microbiome and significantly affect your immune health as a whole. Kimchi, a popular fermented food, has been shown to have anti-cancer, anti-aging, and immune-boosting properties, among many other health benefits.
Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and clementines are rich in the vitamin C that your T-cells need to function properly. Unlike powdered vitamin C drinks, these fruits are also rich in phytonutrients that work like strong antioxidants to fight off harmful bacteria. Even if you supplement with vitamin C capsules, eating citrus fruits during the winter should still be a top priority.
Wild-caught salmon, sardines, and cod are packed with omega-3 fatty acids that your body needs to control inflammation. All illnesses originate from some level of inflammation in your body, so reducing inflammation with the help of anti-inflammatory foods such as wild-caught fish can expedite your return to health.
Pasture-raised proteins are a great source of valuable amino acids and omega-3 fats, which are known to be one of the most anti-inflammatory nutrients available. High-quality protein also helps your body detoxify and boost its immune system. Many experts think the body uses the first 25 to 50 grams of protein consumed each day for this purpose.
Garlic is already known as an amazing anti-fungal and antibacterial food, and it can even stimulate your immune system to better fight off cold and flu symptoms. Adding garlic to your bone broth or using it to season your wild-caught fish will create a cold and flu-fighting dream team of immune-boosting foods.
Raw and unpasteurized honey has a wealth of antibacterial benefits. A spoonful of honey a day can help with several health problems, from a sore throat to persistent allergies. Whether applied topically or ingested, honey can heal your body.
The adage to starve a fever and feed a cold isn’t always right. Starving the body is never helpful — especially when your body needs the energy to fight off an illness. The best way to beat a cold, the flu, or any illness is to boost your body’s abilities to fight it off naturally with a healthy mix of vital nutrients.