Flu season is upon us again. Apart from getting a flu shot and frequently washing your hands, your best defense against cold and flu virus is a healthy lifestyle. Food, exercise, sleep, and alcohol all affect how your immune system functions.
What Does Our Immune System Do?
Our immune system helps to defend against infectious organisms like those that cause colds or the flu. The immune response mounted by our body attacks and destroys viruses and bacteria. A weakened immune system means you’re more likely to get sick and take longer to heal.
Foods That Boost Immunity
What we eat plays a huge role in how we feel. Too much refined sugar, sodium, and saturated fat can negatively impact our immune function. On the other hand, many foods can help our body’s fight disease. Make sure you are eating plenty of these six immune-boosting foods and keep your flu-fighting system running strong.
- Oats. The beta glucan compounds found in oats have antibacterial and antimicrobial properties that can help fight certain bacteria and viruses. Choose old fashioned rolled oats or steel cut oats for the most nutrients.
- Fruits and Vegetables. Research shows that nutrient deficiencies can compromise your immune response and make you more likely to get sick. Fruits and vegetables are some of the best sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, all of which can help boost your immune system. Aim to get at least two cups of fruit and three cups of veggies per day. The more colorful, the better! Check out this guide with a week’s worth of ways to hit your produce goal.
- Garlic. Garlic contains allicin, a compound that can help fight infection and bacteria. One study showed that people who ate garlic daily were less likely to catch a cold. Add crushed garlic to your cooking several times per week, and up your use of it when you start to feel sick.
- Chicken Soup. There’s a reason your mom fed you chicken noodle soup when you were a kid. Research has found that chicken soup helps to prevent inflammatory white cells from moving to other parts of your body, which can decrease your cold symptoms. Chicken soup’s illness-fight ability is thought to be related to cysteine, an amino acid released from chicken during cooking. The hot liquid in soup also helps you to stay hydrated which can help loosen any secretions.
- Beef. Red meat is a good source of zinc, an immune-boosting mineral. Even mild zinc deficiency can increase your risk of getting sick. A three-ounce serving of red meat a few times per week can go a long way towards meeting your zinc needs. Other zinc-rich foods include oysters, fortified cereals, pork, poultry, yogurt, and milk.
- Yogurt. The probiotics found in yogurt help to keep our intestinal tracts free of disease-causing bacteria and germs. Studies have also found that increased yogurt intake may improve our body’s immune response. Look for yogurts with a “live and active cultures” seal, and avoid heavily sweetened versions.
Best Lifestyle Practices for Immunity
Along with nutrient-rich foods, these three lifestyle habits can decrease your chance of getting sick.
- Exercise regularly. Don’t let the cold winter temps keep you away from the gym. Regular exercise can help your body fight infection. Research shows that people who are consistently active get fewer colds than those who don’t exercise. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity five days per week, even if it is a walk around the block or a gentle yoga class.
- Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep can lead to higher levels of stress hormones and more inflammation in your body. This can lead to a weakened immune system, making you more likely to catch a virus and making it even harder to fight it off. Get seven to nine hours of sleep each night to help keep your immune system running in tip top shape.
- Limit the alcohol. Drinking too much can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to diseases. Even just one night of excess alcohol can slow your body’s ability to fight illness. Women should try for no more than one drink per night, and men no more than two.