I was recently pretty sick and stuck in bed for a few days, and it was just the reminder I needed that we're currently at the start of cold, flu, and other virus/bacterial disease season. Cold weather means we’ll spend more time indoors and more likely to be exposed to a variety of illnesses that might simply just give us a head cold or might keep us off our feet for a week or more.
Keep reading for my quick tips to keep your immune system strong as we head into this year's season of runny + raw noses. This two-part series first focused on external factors that influence the strength + health of your immune system. Today, we’ll focus on the internal (food + nutrition) influences on your immune system strength. Keep reading to learn more about the importance of specific nutrients and the foods that are high in those nutrients rather than specific supplements - check out why I do that here.
If you didn’t read Part One, hop over to it.
Here’s my overly simplified picture of our immune system. It’s an army of germs that protect our body from invaders. This army is only as strong as your daily + weekly habits support it. They are the first line of defense that attack a yucky germ when it enters your body; surrounding it and, hopefully, demolishing or breaking it apart into smaller pieces that are even more easily beaten. (An overly simple, but a fun image to picture, right?)
So what are these food + nutrition habits that naturally boost our immune system, ensuring the army members are ready for combat at any moment? Let’s get started!
the big three
I’m sure many of you have heard my conversations about nutrition and handy ways to remember how to balance what you’re eating throughout the week. The Big Three refers to our macronutrients: Carbohydrates, Protein, and Fat. (If you haven’t heard me talk about The Big Three and would like more information, check out my Eating for Sustainability Guide or reach out for personalized nutrition support!)
Balancing The Big Three is vital for every day life, health + wellness. When it comes to immune system health, you might want to pay extra attention to your protein intake, specifically the amino acid glutamine. Glutamine is a conditionally essential amino acid - meaning that our body can produce adequate amounts of it without the needing to supplement and that, for some health reasons some people might need to supplement. Glutamine is vital in the process of removing ammonia and waste products through the liver and is considered the backbone of a strong immune system. This amino acid plays a key role in the synthesis and reproduction of our immune system army and availability of glutamine can determine the strength of the army - low levels can lead to a weaker army.
There isn’t a lot of research specific to the quantities of glutamine found in foods, but some foods that have high levels of glutamine include:
Other protein-rich foods are good sources of glutamine as well. As I recommend, aim to balance your intake of animal- and plant- food sources for optimal protein intake throughout your week to optimize your glutamine intake.
eat the rainbow
My mantra when it comes to talking about how to best balance your intake of micronutrients throughout you week: Eat the Rainbow. This is just as important when talking about the strength of your immune system. I find the concept of eating the rainbow easy to remember because it’s a visual cue: what are the colors that make up your meals + snacks throughout the week. Thinking about eating the rainbow helps to ensure you’re consuming lots of different micronutrients - many of the micros tend to occur in similarly colored foods. Here are some examples of micronutrients vital to the strength of your immune system categorized into color family.
Vitamin A - carrots, apricots, bell peppers
Vitamin C - bell peppers, strawberries, tomatoes
Oranges + Yellows -
Vitamin C - citrus fruits
Vitamin D - sunlight, eggs, fish + meats
Potassium - bananas, squash
Iron - spinach
Fiber - fruits + vegetables
Blues + Purples -
B-vitamins - eggplant, grapes
Antioxidants - blueberries, cranberries
Zinc - cereals, nuts + seeds, meats
Iron - cereals, nuts + seeds, meats
Vitamin E - nut butters
Vitamin C - potatoes, cauliflower
Vitamin D + Zinc - dairy products
Potassium - bananas, potatoes
This is just a small grouping of important micronutrients for immune system strength, and the more colors + variety of foods you eat throughout the week, the more micronutrients you’ll consume!
And there you have it! Some nutrients that are key to boosting your immune system this cold + flu season. Are there any that surprise you? Have any favorite recipes? Add to the comments to share with everyone!
Have questions and/or curious how you can boost your immune system with personalized support? Let me know, I’m here for you!