It’s that time of year when getting sick becomes much more daunting. It interferes with all the family gatherings. Not to mention, the likelihood of getting sick from said family gatherings is relatively high.
You don’t want to be that person to bring the common cold home with you or fall victim to an illness days after returning home from your trip. That’s why preparing the body for the holidays well in advance is crucial.
We will talk about 10 little-known immune-boosting ingredients to add to your diet as soon as possible. These ingredients should support your immune function to reduce the chances of catching something during the holidays. Whether you are going home for an annual visit or using vacation time for that trip you’ve been planning for years–your body will be ready for anything!
In the simplest terms, the immune system is responsible for keeping outside invaders from getting inside the body. That includes germs like bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other harmful toxins.
The immune system consists of two main parts. You are born with an innate immune system or the rapid response system. The adaptive immune system develops from the exposure of microbes or chemicals released by microbes.
Both immune system parts work harmoniously to create a more cohesive and responsive immune system against outside threats.
A variety of factors trigger a weakened immune system. This may be due to poor diet, exercise, insufficient sleep, significant weight gain, or too much stress.
Here are some common symptoms of a weakened immune system:
- Frequent infections. Infections like pneumonia, meningitis, bronchitis, and skin infections are common among those with weakened immune systems.
- Recurrent infections. You may also experience repeated infections. For example, The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology reports that one sign of immune deficiency has four or more ear infections in a year.1
- Inflammation and infection of internal organs. Internal inflammation occurs when your immune system sends out cells to fight bacteria or heal an injury.
- Certain blood disorders. Blood disorders, like low platelet count or anemia, may be a sign of primary immunodeficiency.
If you have any of the above symptoms, you must consult with your doctor. Sometimes a weakened immune system may indicate a more severe immune deficiency that requires physical expertise.
However, a weakened immune system is often caused by unhealthy life choices and can easily be corrected with some simple diet and lifestyle changes.
In a way, the immune system is a direct consequence of how we treat our bodies. For example, alcohol and cigarettes may impair the immune system. For most people, there will be times in their life when they have a fragile immune system and other times in their life when it is strong and active.
There are several small changes you can make if you worry about the current strength of your immune system.
Frequent and regular exercise can dramatically improve the state of your immune system. During and after exercise, your body releases more pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines (small proteins), increases lymphocyte circulation, and improves cell recruitment.2
In addition, physical activity can flush bacteria and germs out of the airways in the lungs. Therefore, reducing the chance of a negative impact from those germs and bacteria.3
While most people wait until the New Year to get into the gym, it may be beneficial for the holidays to begin a couple of months earlier.
Stress can reduce the number of natural killer cells that fight off bacteria and viruses, making your body more prone to illness and other infections.4
It might be difficult to eliminate stress altogether, especially this time of year, but do your best to avoid unnecessary stress responses.
Sleep and the circadian rhythm are strongly linked to immune function and success. One study on the sleep cycle revealed strong communication between the central nervous system and the immune system during sleep.5
A lack of sleep means your body has no time to repair and rest to prepare for the day. This makes you more likely to come down with an unwanted common cold.
Have you ever heard the expression, you are what you eat? Well, it proves especially true when it comes to your immune system.
Your diet might also be the easiest thing to manipulate in your life leading up to the holidays. The vitamins and minerals you consume can feed and nourish the immune system for a much more effective attack on unwanted germs.
We will talk about some of the less common ingredients you can add to your diet that will improve immune performance before holiday celebrations.
Most of us have heard about oranges boosting the immune system with a shot of Vitamin C to the system. Maybe you’ve always relied on chicken noodle soup or chicken broth (which affects the white blood cells associated with inflammation) to replenish the body while sick. Or you’ve possibly turned to garlic or ginger tea for support during an illness.
Those are some of the more common remedies that support immune function, but you may be overlooking some other key ingredients that can help in the battle.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a flowering plant of the ginger family. It is a common spice found in many different foods. It is a key ingredient in curry powder, giving the curry a bright yellow hue.
Turmeric has been used for centuries in natural remedies and has been hailed for its anti-inflammatory effects. Turmeric is packed with over 300 nutrients to help build the body’s function and improve immune response.
There are several ways to add more turmeric to your diet. If you aren’t a fan of curry, you can simply boil raw turmeric and drink it as a tea beverage in the mornings.
You can also mix one teaspoon of turmeric with one cup of sweet apple cider and one teaspoon of grated ginger for a more flavorful cider beverage.
Honey may not be a surprise for many. Honey is a go-to for colds and sore throats, but it has so many nutrients and vitamins that are proven vital for the immune system.
Honey is composed of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, iron, and zinc that help support the body. For immune response, honey induces leukocytes to release cytokines, which improves and revamps tissue repair within the body.
The best thing about honey is how easy it is to add to your daily diet. You can use it as a healthy alternative to sugar in your coffee or tea. You can add it to your yogurt, smoothies, oatmeal, and cereal! As a tasteful immune-boosting proponent, there are endless ways to incorporate honey into your diet.
You may know how beneficial citrus fruits are for the immune system, like oranges, but did you know blueberries have just as much benefit?
Blueberries are often referred to as an “immune-boosting superfood,” and for a good reason. Blueberries contain flavonoids, an antioxidant that can reduce cell damage and boost your immune system. In addition, blueberries are loaded with beneficial vitamins like vitamin C, vitamin A, and potassium.
Blueberries can be pretty easy to find. All you have to do is load up on the little berries and add them to your meals as much as you’d like. You can put more blueberries in smoothies, oatmeal, on pancakes, or mix with some citrus fruits in a bowl of natural yogurt. You can also just have a handful of blueberries for a simple afternoon snack!
Fermentation is the conversion of carbohydrates to alcohol or organic acids using microorganisms. Some popular fermented foods include kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, cider, wine, and cultured yogurt.
Fermented foods are especially helpful in restoring gut health. Immune-related symptoms are often found in the gut, triggered by an unbalanced immune system that results in too much inflammation.
Fermented foods are high in probiotics, improving your immune function and reducing the risk of infection. These types of foods are especially effective in improving gut health.
Fermented foods can often be a hit or miss for many people. You either love them or hate them. Kombucha is a fermented drink that has been gaining popularity for its immune-focused properties. You can keep a bottle of fresh kombucha in your fridge to sip on. You can also add more fresh kimchi or sauerkraut to your prepared meals.
Sweet potatoes are the sweeter companion to potatoes. Most people know sweet potatoes but may not be aware of their massive benefits to the immune system.
Sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is wildly beneficial to the immune system, as well as lowering blood levels. Sweet potatoes are also high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents that can support healthy immune function.
Sweet potatoes are the perfect supplement for regular potatoes in any meal. They are sweeter, tasty, and can be cooked in a variety of ways. From grilled sweet potatoes served on the side with eggs for breakfast, to baked sweet potato, to even sweet potato gnocchi! Your options are unlimited with this popular form of potato.
In general, vegetables are great for the body. Almost all vegetables, especially leafy greens, can contribute to a healthy immune system. But mushrooms, in particular, are proven to be especially useful for your overall health.
Mushrooms are loaded with B vitamins and riboflavin that help support the immune system. One important proponent of mushrooms, however, is selenium. Selenium can help increase white blood cell production to better fight infections. Our bodies don’t make selenium naturally, so we must turn to outside sources, like mushrooms.
Many studies show mushrooms can stimulate anti-inflammatory cytokines to improve immune response.
Unless you are a considerable adversary against mushrooms, they can be relatively easy to add to your diet. You can cut up mushrooms to mix with your eggs, rice, salads, or pasta. They go well with just about any prepared meal.
We already mentioned how vegetables are a valuable source of fuel for the immune system. But bell peppers (specifically orange and red bell peppers) often get overlooked when they should not be. Bell peppers are an important inclusion on the list of 10 immune-boosting ingredients.
Bell peppers contain a significant amount of vitamin C. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that prevents infections by helping your body build valuable antibodies against said infections.
Orange bell peppers contain 158 milligrams of vitamin C, while red bell peppers contain 142 milligrams. For comparison, an orange has about 50 milligrams of vitamin C.
There are endless opportunities for including bell peppers. You can incorporate various bell peppers into your diet in the same way as mushrooms. Be conscious of adding more bell peppers into your typical meals, whether in salads, pasta, omelets, or homemade stir-fries.
Sunflower seeds are loaded with different vitamins and minerals that can improve your overall health and your immune function. Some studies link sunflower seeds to improved cardiovascular health and reduced risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Sunflower seeds are high in zinc and selenium, two essential vitamins to the immune system. The body needs zinc to maintain and develop immune cells. It has been proven that selenium boosts immunity, reduces inflammation, and fights infection.
Sunflower seeds can be used as a seasoning in many different ways. You can sprinkle sunflower seeds on your salads, add to your homemade trail mix, mix in with your stir fry, or replace your peanut butter with sunflower butter.
Aloe vera is a succulent plant species that grows in tropical, semi-tropical, and arid environments. It has been used in herbal medicine for centuries, often known for helping with burns, and used as a topical pain treatment.
Aloe vera helps the immune system on a variety of different fronts. It is shown to increase white blood cell counts, promote gut health, increase antioxidant support, and give the body essential amino acids to fight infections.
You can get a fresh gel directly from an aloe vera plant. From this aloe vera gel, you can add juice to a tea, smoothie, or any drink of choice. You can also even drink small amounts of the aloe vera gel directly. If you are drinking pure aloe vera gel, start with a small amount (one tablespoon) to see how your stomach reacts.
10. A Variety of Natural Herbs
There are too many natural herbs with significant immunity-enhancing qualities to them. You may have heard of some of these herbs, while others will be relatively foreign to you.
Here is a list of a few of the most beneficial immune-boosting herbs you can find:
- Astragalus root has many anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
- Angelica root has been used in ancient Chinese medicine to positively influence the immune system.
- Echinacea can reduce pain and inflammation.
- Ginseng can help regulate the immune system’s response to stress, making the immune system more effective.
- Reishi is a type of mushroom that can be used as an herb to drastically improve the immune response.
Even adding some of these herbs could go a long way with your immune function.
One of the best things about herbs is how easy it is to add to your diet. You can go the easy way and make a tea mixed with one or several of the herbs above. You can also sprinkle small amounts onto your prepared meals for an extra immune boost.
You should keep an eye on a variety of different immune-boosting ingredients. Many of these ingredients have similarities with one another. These are the essential vitamins and nutrients that can effectively aid the immune system:
- Folate Acid/Folic Acid
- Vitamin C, E, A, and D
These are some key components to watch for in your daily diet. Only some of these ingredients are formed naturally within the body, so it is always a good idea to supplement through proper diet and nutrition.
Of course, there are many more ingredients you can look for as well. The immune system is a multi-functional part of your body that gains strength and resources in various different ways. The goal is to provide inspiration and unique ingredients for that extra boost.
One suggestion is to take some of the ingredients discussed here and find a simple way to add them to your diet. Nutrition and diet can significantly affect your immune system for the better.
Many of these ingredients are easy to add to your existing meal plans and foods of choice. All you have to do is take the next step and find the ingredients; a healthy immune system and gut will follow!
Many of us know the popular immune-supporting recipes laced with garlic, orange peels, and ginger. But our options are limitless. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of different ingredients that provide vital support to the immune system.
And this support is something most of us really need leading up to the holidays. If you are going home to visit friends and relatives, the last thing you want to do is to bring an illness along with you. If you are going on a fun holiday getaway, the last thing you want is to get sick right before (or even during) your long-awaited trip.
All you have to do is give your immune system the love and attention it deserves through a balanced diet filled with necessary nutrients. Then your immune system will quite literally take care of you.