There’s lots of seasonal changes that mark the start of cold and flu season. We even respond to the change of the season by changing our diets to include more hearty root vegetables and satisfying ‘stick to your ribs’ meals, we look inward to indoor activities, we bundle up and go out to enjoy the cool weather – so long as we’re wearing warm scarves, hats, and socks to cover our vulnerable spots!
But what effect, if any, do these activities and changes have on safeguarding your immune system from the cold and flu viruses that increase during cold weather months?
They’re all important, but it turns out that the most important thing you can do to bolster your immunity this season comes from the choices you make on how you nourish your gut!
Believe it or not, your ability to combat viruses and bacteria are directly affected by your nutrition. So what better time than the start of cold and flu season to start building up a healthy meal plan for you and your family?
According to an Australian study, about 70-80% of your body’s immunity lives in your gut.
Wow! We know the expression “Mind over Matter” but in this case it’s really “Gut over Matter” because the better care we take of our gut health, the more likely we will be to fortify our immune system and stave off potential sickness this season.
There are areas all along your small intestine called “Peyer’s Patches” that are responsible for building up the immune system and developing the antigens that fight off disease. These Peyer’s Patches also help to regulate good and bad gut flora which are the bacteria we house to maintain our health. You can see already why it’s so important to take good care of our gut to protect ourselves from illness!
So what can you do to build up your immunity this Fall and Winter? It can be as simple as adding a few of these into your nutrition every day:
Immunity Enhancing Foods:
Perhaps the most important nutrient for fighting off viruses and bacteria is zinc! This mineral is abundant and is easily found in multiple food sources including:
● Red meat
● Whole grains
● Beans, nuts, seeds
If you choose to add supplements to your diet, it’s best to take them with food to avoid stomach irritation. Zinc lozenges can provide relief from cold symptoms too, sometimes reducing the duration of your virus by 50%!
Too much zinc can in fact, be too much of a good thing and can cause adverse effects particularly in pregnant women, those with zinc allergies, and those with HIV.
Other well-known immunity boosting foods to add to your recipes this season include garlic, onions, mushrooms, and raw, unpasteurized honey.
Foods that fight inflammation keep our tissues in virus-fighting shape. By choosing to eat these in plenty, you can help your immune system keep all kinds at bay, and even help to calm down any inflammation that might be teetering on the brink of flaring up.
Try omega-3 rich anti-inflammatory foods like:
● Hemp seeds
● Chia seeds
Even leafy greens, berries, turmeric and green tea are known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, so be sure to eat plenty of these too!
For breakfast, try oatmeal + flaxseed poridge sprinkled with walnuts, cinnamon and blueberries to get a boost of immunity enhancing and anti-inflammatory foods at the start of your day.
A mug of green tea instead of coffee is a great way to warm up to the day ahead…
For lunch, how about sliced grilled chicken with sauteed spinach and mushrooms with some fresh garlic?
Or for dinner, why not baked salmon fillets with a red pepper stuffed with brown rice and broccoli florets?
And to wind down, try a mug of golden milk, chalk full of antioxidants! Check out our Favourite Golden Milk Recipe
While the relationship between sugar and viral/bacterial illness is still largely unknown, we do know that overconsumption of sugar has negative effects on gut health. For that reason, reducing your intake of sugar particularly during cold and flu season is a good idea because it will allow all of the positive steps you’re taking towards better gut health and immunity to shine through!
Taking a good probiotic is always a good idea, no matter what the season! But, it’s particularly important at this time of year when environmental changes and an increase of viruses and bacteria require us to be more vigilant about protecting our gut health. Remember too, that antibiotics can be necessary to cure some forms of infection, but a side effect is always reduced healthy gut flora. To combat this, remember that if you or a loved one does require antibiotics, to follow the prescribed course with a course of probiotics to bring your gut flora back up to tip top shape.
So, this cold and flu season, keep up with your warm wooly knits, your cozy nesting habits, your enjoyment of Fall’s outdoor activities! But remember to add the most unexpected way of beating cold and flu season – by upping how you nourish your gut!
1) Wu, E., and Wu, HJ (2012). The role of microbiota in immune homeostasis and autoimmunity. Gut Microbes 3 (1): 4-14.