Written by: Sarah Remmer, RD
Cold and flu season is in full force. Illness is inevitable, especially for your school-aged littles! Between pre-school drop offs, playdates, and parties’ kids are exposed to so many germs. And guess what – they bring those germs home with them! Lucky us! There’s nothing worse than “waiting your turn” for the bug to eventually make its way to you. But there are a few things you can do to help boost your immunity and build a good defence system for those little invaders.
Here are my 10 simple ways to boost immunity so you can stay healthy (and happy) this winter!
1. Start your day with oatmeal. Sounds easy, right? Oats are packed full of a soluble fibre called beta-glucan. The great thing about beta-glucan is that is works to enhance immunity by stimulating white blood cell (phagocyte) production which in turn helps protect and enhance your immune system. The soluble fibre found in oats is said to have both anti-microbial and antioxidant qualities. And not only will oats help your immune system, but they will also help keep your cholesterol levels in check AND keep you (and your kids) fuller longer, and more energized throughout the morning. Win-win-win! Psst… Made with Local’s “Loaded Oats” are an easy, nutritious way to start your family’s day! AND their Real Food Bars and Real Food Bar Mixes contain lots of oats as well!
2. Decorate your oatmeal with fruit! What’s better than fresh batch of oatmeal to start your day? Adding some delicious vitamin C-rich fruit and berries to that oatmeal! Vitamin C is the vitamin we most often hear associated with cold and flu season, as it has been shown to help reduce the duration and severity of a common cold. However, it may not work for everyone. In general, supplementing with vitamin C when a cold has developed works best for those who start out with a mild deficiency. Instead, start with a balanced diet (with adequate vitamin C) to help keep your immune system strong! Other vitamin C-rich fruits and veggies include kiwi fruit, citrus fruits, blackberries, pineapple, squash, broccoli and bell peppers.
3. Don’t forget about probiotics. I’m sensing a great breakfast theme here! Probiotics are the "good" bacteria (live cultures), similar to those naturally found in your gut. These active cultures help change or repopulate intestinal bacteria to balance your gut flora. This functional component may boost immunity (and healthy in general), especially your gut health. To get more probiotics, include fermented dairy foods such as yogurt, kefir and aged cheeses, which contain live bacteria such as (some examples are bifidobacteria and lactobacilli). Some non-dairy probiotic-containing foods are kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh and cultured non-dairy yogurts.
In our house we eat yogurt every day, and try to include some of those other probiotic foods year-round, but when winter hits, I will often turn to probiotic supplement to boost our immunity. Probiotics can be effective at varying strengths. Studies have found health benefits anywhere from 50 million to more than 1 trillion CFUs per day depending on strain. A probiotic with higher CFUs doesn't necessarily equal better quality or effectiveness. I suggest aiming for at least 10 billion cells for healthy adults and around 5 billion for healthy kids (make sure it’s a regulated kid-specific probiotic supplement).
(Note from the MwL team: we love Halifax-based Cultured Coconut for our daily dose of high-quality probiotics!)
4. Snack on Almonds! Almonds are a fantastic snack food. They’re a loaded with protein, fibre, potassium, healthy fats and more. Two nutrients that may ward off the negative effects of stress by boosting the immune system are niacin and riboflavin – both B vitamins! Another important vitamin found in almonds is vitamin E, which is an antioxidant that protects the immune system! Did you know that Made with Local’s Blueberry Grunt and Cranberry Choco-Chunk bars contain over one tablespoon of all-natural almond butter per bar?!
5. Eat Oily Fish. Oily fish, such as salmon, trout and tuna contain an immune-boosting nutrient called omega-3 fatty acids. This type of polyunsaturated fatty acid helps to boost immunity by promoting the activity of white blood cells which in turn help to fight against harmful bacteria. Omega-3 fats also have antioxidant properties which may help reduce inflammation in the lungs resulting in fewer infections and colds. Aim for 2-3 servings per week in order to maintain immune health.
6. Cook with Mushrooms! Admittedly, mushrooms aren’t my favourite food, but they are jam-packed full of good nutrition. Mushrooms have been shown to have both anti-viral and anti-bacterial qualities. They also contain the antioxidant Selenium.
7. Aim for more ORANGE: A good rule of thumb is, the more colourful a food, the more nutritious. What gives yams, squash, oranges and sweet potato their colour is an immune boosting nutrient called Beta-Carotene. Beta-Carotene is converted into Vitamin A in the body and plays an important role in our skin health – which is our first line of defence against bacteria, viruses, and germs that cause illnesses.
8. Ward off illness with garlic. Garlic adds so much flavour to any dish, don’t you agree? During cold and flu season, don’t be afraid of adding too much. It contains a sulphur component called “Allicin” which can help white blood cells battle against infection and produce effective antibodies to fight harmful viruses and bacteria.
9. Enjoy chicken noodle soup. This is my favourite cold and flu remedy. Enjoying a bowl of chicken noodle soup while feeling unwell is an oldie, but a goodie. But the age-old remedy actually has some validity to it. Beside chicken noodle soup being super tasty it can also be loaded with the anti-inflammatory foods mentioned above, making it a superstar meal that helps to inhibit the circulation of neutrophils – cells that participate in the body’s inflammatory response. Plus, congestion is often alleviated, and mucus flushed with the warmth of the soup. I’m a fan of freezing chicken noodle soup for times when I know I’ll be too unwell to cook from scratch. Just remember to freeze without the noodles, you can add them later in the reheating process.
10. Remember to Wash Your Hands! Not food related, but definitely a tip you should remember. Proper hand washing is one of the most important steps in preventing the transmission of the cold and flu. So, don’t forget to wash your hands prior to consuming meals or snacks!