It's that time! Cold and flu season are in full gear so it’s important to stock your winter wellness toolkit with some natural immune boosters. Here are some essentials to keep handy so you can stay healthier this winter.
1. Pumpkin seeds. Zinc and iron are two natural immune boosting nutrients that play a role in healthy immune functioning and pumpkin seeds provide both of these key minerals. You can enjoy pumpkin seeds in all of the same ways you can enjoy nuts. I especially like them along with a piece of fruit, in a trail mix, on top of a salad, and as a garnish to wintery soups (like butternut squash or pumpkin soup, which also contain immune-boosting nutrients). Plain, roasted and lightly salted pumpkin seeds are really versatile, but you can also buy them in a variety of flavors from brands, like Super Seedz. Pumpkin seeds also provide some protein and anti-inflammatory fats along with other stay-healthy nutrients, so you’ll want to keep them on hand year-round.
2. Canned pumpkin puree. Vitamin A from foods, like canned pumpkin puree, is another natural immune booster. This essential nutrient is part of your body’s first line of defense against various pathogens because it’s involved in keeping the lining of your mucousal tissues healthy.(1) Canned pumpkin puree is one of my favorite vitamin A-rich foods because it’s easy to incorporate into many meals and snacks, ensuring that you get plenty of vitamin A. It’s also easy to keep in your kitchen because unlike fresh fruits and veggies, it doesn’t get rotten in your fridge. You can stir canned pumpkin puree into yogurt and oatmeal or use it as an ingredient in energy balls and other meals and snacks. If you want more ideas, download this recipe booklet.
3. Chicken soup. Chicken soup that’s chock full of veggies (like carrots, onions, and celery) can provide some natural immune boosting nutrients, like vitamin A, but it’s also a winter essential should you happen to get sick. One study suggested it may have some anti-inflammatory properties and together with the steam from the hot soup, it may relieve congestion. (2) Since I’m all about shortcuts, I usually buy a box of organic chicken soup and then doctor it with additional natural immune boosters, like ginger or turmeric from my spice cabinet.
4. Honey. This is another science-tested natural immune booster to add to your winter wellness toolkit. It’s been shown that honey has antibacterial, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties and it also acts as an antioxidant, which helps stabilize your cells and protect them from various diseases. (3, 8) Certain compounds in honey may also help improve your gut health, which is tied to healthy immune functioning. (For more ways to improve your gut health naturally, read this blog.) Plus, honey can be helpful if you get a sore throat or cough. One study found that a spoonful of honey relieved coughs better than an over-the-counter cough remedy. (4) You can also soothe sore throats by drinking hot water with lemon (which has another key immune boosting nutrient, vitamin C) and a little honey. Don’t give honey to kids under one, though. It can be toxic to infants.
5. Chamomile tea and essential oil. This herbal tea and oil belong in your winter wellness toolkit for two reasons. It’s thought that chamomile has anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties and studies suggest it may help alleviate a number of wintery conditions, like sore throat and post-meal bloating (for instance, if you’ve had a big meal or indulged in some rich comfort food). (5) But on top of that, you need to restore properly in order to keep your immune system in fighting shape, and that means getting sufficient sleep and finding healthy ways to alleviate stress. Chamomile has been shown to help on both fronts. Studies suggest it may lower levels of substances related to stress as well as help people fall asleep better. Regardless of the type of tea, just sipping on tea has been found to help people feel more mellow so if chamomile isn’t your thing, stock up on another type. (6)
6. Magnesium. Like chamomile, magnesium works it’s natural, immune-boosting magic by enabling you to stress less and sleep better, which in turn, helps keep your immune system functioning at peak performance. If work or life dial up your stress levels, you may need more magnesium than normal. And even when you’re not under stress, there’s a good chance you aren’t getting enough magnesium from food alone. That’s why I often suggest a magnesium supplement, like OMG! Nutrition. (I also work with this company.) The main thing you need to know when supplementing with magnesium is that some common forms, like magnesium citrate, can cause cramping and a laxative effect, which is why I prefer magnesium glycinate—because it doesn’t produce those unwanted issues. (To learn more about the best supplements for your health, read this blog post.)
In addition to keeping a well-stocked winter wellness toolkit, you’ll also want to keep these tips in mind to help boost your immune system naturally:
Wash your hands frequently. Make it a habit to wash your hands before each meal and every time you enter the house. If you’ve been spending time in common areas at work or elsewhere (the ATM, the office pantry), make sure you wash your hands promptly and properly afterwards.
Stick to the alcohol recommendations of one drink a day for women, two for men. Alcohol can interfere with refreshing sleep and it can take a toll on your immune system so it’s best enjoyed in moderation. It’s a good idea to pay special attention to this during vacation and other times when social activities pick up.
Stay active. Have a cold weather plan to make sure you keep your activity levels up, which keeps your body and your immune system healthier. This could mean taking an exercise class, heading to a gym, or using an app to exercise at home.
Make a point to drink water and other unsweetened beverages. Feeling hot is a good reminder to drink up, but when it’s cold outside, you might forget to stay hydrated. Keep a refillable bottle handy and try to drink about 32 ounces by mid-afternoon and another 32 ounces between mid-afternoon and bedtime. It’s ok if you don’t quite reach this goal, but it’ll help boost your fluid intake to think about it this way and staying properly hydrated is one way to nourish your cells and stay healthy.
For more natural immune boosters, check out my previous post about natural ways to boost your immune system. It's got more immune-boosting foods and nutrients!
Want to geek out on the science? Here are the references!