Dear Ruthy, I’m constantly coming down with a cold or flu-like symptoms from the fall right through the end of winter. Is there anything I can do diet-wise to boost my immune system?
This is such a great question! Between germ-infested public transportation, work, the gym and if you’ve got kids, the colonies of germs they bring home from school, I think we all struggle with exposure to germs. Boosting your immunity through diet is the best way to prevent sickness since about 70% of our immune system is in our gut.
I’ll share with you my 4-part plan for keeping my immune system top shape: (1) diet, (2) bee products, (3) vitamin D, and (4) sleep. While vitamin D and sleep are not specifically food-based, they are key immunity enhancers and it would be amiss not to mention them.
All of these tips support a number of our bodies’ systems and general health, so in addition to fighting off those nasty colds and flus you’ll see an overall pep in your step.
(Photo by Minimalist Baker)
Optimal immune function requires a diet that is low in refined sugars and refined starches. These foods actually suppress the immune system by reducing the ability of our white blood cells to destroy bacteria. It’s also helpful to keep alcohol intake moderate to low. What you should pack in is a large variety of whole, natural foods with a big emphasis on brightly coloured fruits and vegetables. Some specific foods that are powerful infection fighters and/or immunity boosters are:
Raw garlic — a powerful fighter of infections due to its antibacterial properties
Foods high in carotenes, Vitamin C and Vitamin A — includes brightly and deep coloured vegetables such as dark greens (kale, parsley, collard greens, broccoli, spinach), red/chili pepper, squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, cauliflower, cabbage, papaya and citrus
Foods high in antioxidants — includes berries, carrots, dark or raw chocolate
Drink plenty of water to make sure your body can keep flushing germs out effectively.
I make a fresh batch of this weekly and keep it in the fridge for quick access to a 60 mL shot every morning.
Brew 2 cups of loose leaf tea (made with all or any one of the following herbs: astragalus, nettle, elderberry, rosehip and/or chamomile), stir in 1 tablespoon of raw honey, 1 ounce of freshly squeezed lemon juice and 1 ounce of raw apple cider vinegar. Optionally, juice some raw ginger (or buy cold-pressed ginger juice) and add about 30 mL of ginger juice to the shot.
Consume warm immunity-enhancing drinks throughout the day such as matcha lattes or tea (I love adding in pine pollen and ashwagandha powder to mine). You can also add medicinal mushrooms (particularly chaga, turkey tail and lion’s mane) or maca to your coffee, hot chocolate or other drink of choice for an immunity boost. All of these ingredients can be found at health food stores or online through specialty retailers such as Real Mushrooms, Mountain Rose Herbs and Harmonic Arts.
2. Bee Products
All raw bee products are great for immunity as they pack antioxidant, antiviral and antibacterial properties. Raw honey is easy to incorporate daily by adding it to tea or coffee, or drizzling on toast, yogurt, granola or oatmeal. I also have to specifically call out propolis throat spray as this just might be the single most potent immune booster and germ fighter on the list! I take 2 sprays daily to keep my immune system strong, and up to 10-20 sprays a day if I feel something coming on or to fight off a cold, flu or sore throat.
3. Vitamin D
(Photo by Daoudi Aissa)
If you live farther from the equator and aren’t getting Vitamin D year-round from the sun, make sure you’re supplementing with a good quality Vitamin D3. It helps protect the body from infections by activating white blood cells and enhancing clearance of bacteria. Speak to your health practitioner to determine the right dose for you.
(Photo by Kinga Cichewicz)
Get enough of it! On average, most of us need 8 hours of sleep a day. A run down body results in a weak immune system. We only have a finite amount of energy. When it’s low, much of it is used for energy-intensive digestion and very little is left for other important functions such as immunity.