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Conquer Cold & Flu Season Naturally with These Immune-Boosting Foods

Integrative Health

Conquer Cold & Flu Season Naturally with These Immune-Boosting Foods

Winter foods to boost immunity

This month at Ballen Medical & Wellness, it’s all about empowering your natural defenses against cold, flu, and other winter ailments.

In addition to helpful tips and info, we’re offering a $100 voucher for IV Ozone therapy or an Immune Booster infusion — or a free ozone insufflation when you buy a package of them. Contact us for details.

Winter’s in full swing, and so is cold and flu season. From the common cold and influenza to RSV and covid, viral infections are easier to catch this time of year as we spend more time indoors with less air circulation and drier air.

Fortunately, you can be active and empower your first line of defense against these viral invaders — your immune system.

But what’s the best way to support your immune system so you can avoid getting sick — and get better faster if you do catch something?

Well, a lot of different things determine your immune system health — but if we had to pick just one thing for most people to focus on, we’d have to say nutrition.

After all, as much as 70% of your immune system actually lives inside your gut.

So in this blog, we’ll take a look at how to support your immune system with the right food as well as what types of food to avoid.

All with the goal of keeping you as healthy, active, and productive as possible this winter and all year long.

Before we dive in here, two important caveats:

  • This information is geared towards people with average to moderately weakened immune systems. If you’re severely immunocompromised or have an autoimmune disorder, you should talk to your doctor or other health professional about what’s best for you.
  • Please don’t think of immunity as something you boost a few times a year or take a magic pill for. Keeping your immune system strong should play an important on-going role in your health and wellness.

Now let’s take a quick look at how the immune system works as well as how nutrition plays a role in your immune health.

Black woman in nice modern kitch eating immune-boosting foods

The Basics Of Your Immune System

Your immune system is a complex collection of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to defend and heal the body from various health threats like viruses, cancer cells, parasites, and harmful types of bacteria and fungi.

Here’s some of the basics behind this fascinating, complex system:
  • White Blood Cells: These essential components of your immune system play a lot of different roles, from identifying harmful invaders to destroying them with antibodies. Some types of white blood cells have “immunological memory” — they remember specific threats so you’re better equipped to fight them if they return in the future.
  • Inflammation: Inflammation is a natural response of your immune system to infections, injuries, toxins, and other threats. It’s characterized by redness, swollen tissue, heat, pain, and loss of function in the affected area. While short-term inflammation is a good thing (it works to repair cells, tissues, and combat invaders), chronic inflammation can be damaging to the body and has been linked to many serious health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders.
  • Healing and Repair: After fighting off an infection or injury, your immune system plays a key role in cleaning up the affected area and initiating the healing process.
  • Internal Surveillance: Your immune system is also responsible for monitoring your body’s own cells. It identifies and eliminates cells that could potentially cause harm, such as cancerous or malfunctioning cells.
  • Gut Microbiome: The gut microbiome is the collective term for the tens of trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes that inhabit the gastrointestinal tract. This complex microbial community plays important roles in immune system functioning, from digesting and absorbing nutrients to protecting against pathogenic microbes.
  • Balance and Regulation: Maintaining a balanced immune response is crucial. An underactive immune system can leave you vulnerable to infections, while an overactive immune system may mistakenly attack healthy tissues, leading to autoimmune disorders.

As you can see, the immune system plays a variety of roles in keeping us healthy, from identifying viruses and cancer cells to fighting infections and promoting healing.

But your immune system can’t do any of these things without the right building blocks, which is why proper nutrition is so critical.

Did you know January is immune support month at Ballen Medical & Wellness? Call us today at (720)222-0550 to receive your free $100 voucher for a discounted IV Ozone Infusion or IV Immune Booster (Double Myers Cocktail). You can also choose a free ozone insufflation when you purchase a package.

Nutrition and the Immune System

Good nutrition gives your body the resources it needs to defend you from cold, flu, and other unwanted pathogens. Here are the key nutrients that help support a protective and resilient immune system:

  • Micronutrients: Vitamins (A, C, D, E, B-complex) and minerals (iron, zinc, selenium) are crucial for the development and function of immune cells like white blood cells and antibodies. Deficiencies in these nutrients can weaken the immune response and make you more susceptible to cold and flu as well as other infections.
  • Macronutrients: Protein is the building block of immune cells, while healthy fats (omega-3s) play a role in regulating inflammation and supporting immune responses. Carbohydrates, when consumed in moderation, provide energy for immune cells to function efficiently.
  • Phytochemicals and Polyphenols: These beneficial plant compounds found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other plant foods have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in the body. By neutralizing free radicals and lowering inflammation, they support immune cell health and balanced immune function. Some phytochemicals also have antimicrobial properties to fend off harmful pathogens.
  • Probiotics: Probiotics are live, beneficial bacteria and yeasts that increase the quantity and diversity of healthy microbes in the gut microbiome. Regular probiotic consumption can aid digestion, strengthen immunity, and prevent pathogen overgrowth.

We’ll take a closer look at these nutrients and how to best add them to your diet. But first, let’s look at something equally important as eating the right foods — avoiding the wrong ones.

Think of your immune system as having a limited amount of bandwidth to protect you. The more you keep it busy handling inflammation and other issues from unhealthy foods and sugar, the less resources your body has to defend you against cold, flu, and other threats.

What Not To Eat: Foods That Weaken Your Immune System

While it’s crucial to incorporate immunity-fortifying food and nutrients into your diet, it’s equally important to recognize the kinds of food that may sabotage your immune system and undo all your positive efforts.

These are some of the main foods that cause more harm than good to your body’s natural defenses:

  1. Processed foods: Foods high in trans fats, salt, and sugar can cause inflammation in the body, putting extra stress on your immune system. This includes ultra-processed foods like fast food, ready-to-eat meals, and cold cuts. Unfortunately, this also describes the majority of the foods in the average supermarket.
  2. Sugary foods and drinks: High consumption of sugar can suppress the immune system, making it harder for your body to fight off infections. So, it’s a good idea to drastically limit sodas, candy, and baked goods with high sugar content. Tip: Keep in mind sugar is added to a lot of foods you wouldn’t expect, so read food labels carefully. Here’s 71 different names for sugar to be aware of.
  3. Alcohol: Chronic and heavy alcohol consumption can weaken the immune system, making you more vulnerable to infectious diseases. We know this one hurts during the season of spiked hot cocoa and hot toddies, but if you do drink alcohol, make sure it’s in moderation.
  4. Highly caffeinated drinks: Excess caffeine can mess with your sleep, an important factor for maintaining a robust immune system. Try to keep your caffeine intake moderate and prevent it from disrupting your sleep.

We realize completely avoiding these foods might be challenging (and perhaps a bit too joyless for many of us) but think of them as extras in your diet — not movie stars or even supporting actors.

What To Eat: The Best Foods to Support Your Immune System This Season

Now that we covered what not to eat, let’s look at some of the best options to incorporate into your diet this winter. Some might be less available than others depending on where you live, but many are seasonally-appropriate —working well in cozy dishes like soups, stews, and roasted veggies.

Winter-Friendly Foods to Support Immunity

Bone broth: Bone broth can be healing for the gut and supplies immune-fortifying minerals like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. Its collagen content may also benefit immunity per some research. It’s great by itself, or you can also add vegetables and protein for a more complete meal. You can even treat it like a beverage and enjoy a warm, soothing mug of it with your winter meals.

Fish: Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and tuna are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which have a strong anti-inflammatory effect. During the winter consider using fish in chowders and stews, or simply bake it and pair it with roasted winter vegetables.

Turmeric: Turmeric is great as a seasoning for many winter foods, and it also works well as a tea. The compound curcumin in turmeric is well-known for its anti-inflammatory benefits, making it a great choice for a supplement as well.

Winter squashes: Butternut squash, acorn squash, and pumpkin work well as winter decor, but they’re also good sources of vitamins A and C, as well as fiber and potassium. They work well in winter soups, but are also great roasted.

Fruits and Vegetables to Support Immunity

Berries: The vibrant pigments that give berries their rich hues also provide potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phenols that enhance overall immune function. Keep immune cells young by mixing berries like strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries into yogurt, oatmeal, and smoothies.

Citrus fruits: Vitamin C supports immune cell function and acts as an antioxidant. Citrus options like oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes are high in vitamin C, although red pepper, broccoli, guava, and papaya are even higher.

Cruciferous vegetables: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale are rich in vitamin C, sulforaphane, and other immune-boosting compounds. They work well as side dishes as well as salads.

Garlic: While often used as a spice, garlic bulbs are actually a vegetable with natural antiviral and antibacterial properties that can help combat infection. Studies even suggest garlic might shorten the duration of colds. Plus, it’s packed full of allicin, a compound that ramps up your body’s protective white blood cells.

Mushrooms: Certain mushrooms like maitake and shiitake contain beta-glucans and other polysaccharides that activate protective immune cells. Mushrooms are also incredibly versatile: they work well in salads, as side dishes, or even as a substitute for meat in many recipes.

Spinach: This leafy green is high in vitamins A and C as well as iron. It also has numerous antioxidants, which may increase the infection-fighting ability of our immune systems.

Fermented Foods for Immune Support

Kefir and Yogurt: Both kefir and yogurt are excellent sources of probiotics. They contribute to a robust gut microbiome and support the immune response in the gut and respiratory tract, key areas for pathogen defense. Whether you choose dairy or non-dairy versions, focus on products with minimal added sugars and those containing live and active cultures for maximum health benefits.

Kimchi: This traditional Korean dish made from fermented vegetables is a powerhouse of probiotics. Its unique blend of spices and fermentation process not only adds a flavorful kick to meals but also contributes significantly to gut and immune health.

Sauerkraut: The fermentation process of sauerkraut produces beneficial bacteria that help balance the gut microbiome, enhancing digestion and nutrient absorption. Rich in dietary fiber, vitamins C and K, and minerals like iron and manganese, sauerkraut also provides antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits. Tip: Opt for unpasteurized sauerkraut whenever possible, as pasteurization can destroy many of the beneficial live bacteria.

Seeds, Spices and Teas to Support Immunity

Ginger: Sip ginger tea or add to recipes to harness anti-inflammatory gingerols that can calm respiratory inflammation from colds and flu while and also decrease nausea symptoms if needed.

Green tea: Green teas including matcha and sencha are packed with disease-fighting antioxidants and compounds that enhance immune defense against viruses.

Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, sunflower, and flax seeds provide vitamin E, zinc, selenium, healthy fats, and plant-based protein — all helpful for immune health.

Eating The Rainbow

And when in doubt… eat the rainbow

Brightly colored fruits and vegetables don’t just look pretty — their pigments communicate different nutrients.

Red fruits and vegetables like tomatoes and strawberries are rich in lycopene and vitamin C, while dark leafy greens like spinach and kale are loaded with vitamins A, C, K, and essential minerals. Orange and yellow produce such as carrots and oranges offer beta-carotene and flavonoids. Blue and purple foods like blueberries and eggplants are high in anthocyanins, known for their antioxidant properties.

So try to incorporate the full spectrum of colorful produce each day to leverage nature’s immune-supporting potential. Tip: As fruits and vegetables age they don’t just lose their color — their nutritional value goes down as well. So opt for vibrant shades and deep colors when picking your produce.

A Few Additional Tips For Immunity-Friendly Cooking

  • Light Steaming Over Boiling: Steaming vegetables can preserve more nutrients compared to boiling. Use a little bit of seasoning or a sprinkle of olive oil for flavor.
  • Remember the Power of Spice: Not only can they add flavor and variety, but many spices also have immune-boosting properties. For instance, turmeric is known for its antioxidative and anti-inflammatory effects, while ginger can aid digestion and reduce inflammation.
  • Sauteing with Healthier Oils: Use olive oil or avocado oil for sauteing, instead of butter or margarine. These oils are high in antioxidants and beneficial fats that support your immune system.

Conclusion

Supporting immune health may feel overwhelming or even futile when everyone around you is falling ill, but you have more control than you think. Equipping your body’s natural defenses with healthy nutrients can tip the scales in your favor this cold and flu season. And supporting your intricate immune defenses can pay huge dividends for your health, not just this winter but for years and years to come.

Need a little extra support for your immune system?

To help you on your journey to better immune health, we’re offering exclusive specials this January:

  • $100 Voucher for Select IV Therapy Infusions*: Use this voucher towards our featured immune-boosting therapies — IV Ozone Treatments and our IV Immune Booster Infusions (a Double Myers Cocktail).
  • Free Ozone Insufflation*: Purchase a package of six treatments and receive a free ozone insufflation session. We’re big fans of this treatment, especially if you’ve plateaued in your efforts to feel your best.

If you have any questions or you’re ready to schedule one of our immune-boosting specials, call us at (720)222-0550 or contact us at office@ballenmedical.com.

*Offer good for one per person and expires 1/31/24.

Are you interested in supporting your immune system with holistic treatment options like IV infusion therapy? Call us today at (720)222-0550 or click here to schedule a free, no-pressure, 15-minute consultation with a knowledgable member of our patient care team.

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