The cold winter months can be tough on our bodies, especially our immune system. In the winter, the body’s natural defenses tend to be weakened, making us more susceptible to common colds and flus. Luckily, there are specific, functional foods that, when eaten on a regular basis, can provide benefit to our natural immune response to help make us less vulnerable to infection.
Consider adding these functional foods to your diet to provide your immune system with extra love and support this winter:
- Garlic is an herb that has been well studied for its positive effects on immune health as it helps to regulate our immune system and enhances our ability to fight off unwanted viruses. It can be consumed in a variety of different forms, such as a fresh herb, oil, capsules, and dried powder - an easy addition to your favourite savory recipes!
- How to incorporate: add crushed, sliced, or powdered garlic to your favourite recipes for extra flavour and health benefits.
- Berries are rich in healthy compounds known as flavonoids, which are protective to our overall health and immune system by reducing inflammation and preventing oxidative stress. When your body has increased inflammation and oxidative stress, the immune system is working overtime, making you more susceptible to infection. Berries include blueberries, elderberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries, and are healthy whether bought fresh or frozen!
- How to incorporate: try including berries in your smoothies, salads, oatmeal, or having them as a morning or afternoon snack.
- Dark, leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and swiss chard are rich in many nutrients, including vitamins A, B, C, E and K, which are essential for proper immune function. Leafy greens are also full of antioxidants, which help to reduce inflammation and protect healthy cells from damage.
- How to incorporate: add leafy greens to soups, salads, sandwiches, or hide them blended in a smoothie.
- Mushrooms have been used for centuries to support immune function. Mushrooms contain many essential nutrients and compounds known as beta-glucans, which have positive studies in cancer and are known for their ability to strengthen and regulate immunity. We consider any type of mushroom to be beneficial, whether fresh or dry!
- How to incorporate: add sauteed mushrooms to your favourite dishes, or drink mushroom-based tea or coffee.
- Ginger is a warming herb that is well-known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-nausea properties. It contains several compounds that target the immune system to help with inflammation and the immune response. Ginger can be used preventatively, or to manage the symptoms associated with common colds and flus, such as nausea or indigestion.
- How to incorporate: drink ginger tea or boil ginger root, add fresh or powdered ginger to dishes and smoothies to enhance flavour.
Author: Sydne Valiquette, CCNM Integrative Cancer Centre Intern