The ultimate goal for cold and flu season? Trying not to get sick in the first place. Prevention is the best way to protect yourself. Good nutrition – along with exercise and getting enough sleep – is key to keeping your body in peak condition so it can fight off germs.
Certain vitamins and minerals are essential to supporting a healthy immune system, your body's defense against viruses and bacteria. Without them, your body is more prone to illness and infection. Essential nutrients include:
The ideal way to boost your immune system naturally is to get the necessary vitamins and minerals through your diet rather than using supplements. Stock your kitchen with these nutrient powerhouses:
Lemons are loaded with vitamin C and bioflavonoids (antioxidants that protect cell health). Vitamin C does a lot to keep our body healthy, including supporting the immune system. Since our bodies don’t make it, we have to rely on our diet to get the recommended amount of this vital nutrient.
An easy way to do that? Sip lemon water throughout the day – a quarter cup of lemon juice provides 31 percent of your daily needs – or squirt it on vegetables or into salad dressings. You can also cook with it in recipes like this one for Lemon Dill Salmon.
Garlic contains a number of vitamins and minerals crucial to the immune system. But it also has a compound called allicin, which may be a powerful weapon against bacteria and viruses. One study found that people taking a garlic supplement had less than half the number of colds as the group that did not take it.
It's not hard to find recipes that use garlic, but you can also eat it raw, which preserves more of its health-promoting qualities. Add fresh garlic to salad dressings, dips and marinades.
These popular nuts are high in vitamin E, which fortifies the immune system. Almonds also contain zinc, a mineral that studies have linked to fewer colds and quicker recoveries.
Keep a bag of almonds in the pantry and grab a handful to eat as a snack. They're packed with protein, fiber and healthy fats to keep you feeling full until your next meal. You can also toss them into salads, homemade granola or trail mix.
Mushrooms are loaded with selenium, a mineral that protects the body from infection, as well as zinc and vitamins B and D. (The body makes vitamin D when skin is exposed to the sun, but most people need to get some of this nutrient through diet as well.)
Grilling portobello mushroom caps like steaks is a favorite recipe for vegetarians and for meatless Mondays. You can also include mushrooms in casseroles or roast them on their own as a simple side dish. (Learn how to roast vegetables in the oven.)
This sweet spud is a delicious immune booster, brimming with vitamin A, which your body needs to protect your cells and fight off germs. One potato is enough to meet your daily recommendation.
Just like regular potatoes, you can mash and roast sweet potatoes, too. You can also turn them into oven-baked fries, hash browns or a creamy soup.
A healthy diet along with these preventive steps can keep your immune system in tip-top shape:
If you do catch a cold or come down with the flu, resting at home is usually sufficient. But for those at risk for flu complications, there's a new drug approved for flu treatment. It's most effective when given during the early stages of illness, so consider seeing your doctor as soon as you have symptoms.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a great way to avoid illness. By combining a nutritious diet with other preventive measures, you'll be giving your immune system everything it needs to keep you well.