It’s that time of the year again… cold and flu season is lurking around the corner. And there’s no way to avoid it, especially with kids bringing unwanted guests home from school or daycare.
But I have good news for you:
- Getting sick from time to time is a sign of a sound immune system. I know this sounds totally counter-intuitive, but fever, sniffles and sneezes are our body’s way of expelling bacteria, driving out infection and renewing us. Consider it a deep cleaning of the body, but then the hard way.
- You can ward off winter infections and speed up the healing process with food and lifestyle changes. And that’s based on scientific proof and personal experience. Read on to learn how…
6 ways to boost your family’s immunity through nutrition and lifestyle
Since I started listening to my body and feeding it according to its needs, I get sick less often and I heal much faster. The same goes for my children who are rarely very sick and have hardly ever taken antibiotics.
Of course everyone is unique and some people are just more prone to getting sick, no matter how healthily they live. My 7- and 2-year olds for instance have very strong immune systems, while my 5-year old sniffs her way through winter even though she’s my best eater and sleeper. She was just born that way and needs extra nutrients and preventive care to keep her from falling sick.
That doesn’t mean she has a weak or inefficient immune system. On the contrary, her little fighters are highly effective at creating inflammation, mucus, and heat (fever) to get rid of unwanted invaders.
If you want to read in very simple words how immunity works, make sure to read this post: Immunity explained to a 5-year-old.
But how can we prevent intruders from entering our system, and help our warriors combat the bad guys? Below is a non-exhaustive list of six ways to boost our immune system.
- FEED YOUR ARMY WELL
Just like you should never send an army into the battlefield on an empty stomach, you better keep your immune cells in shape to fight unwanted intruders.
The most powerful immune boosters are:
- Vitamin C is the most immune-promoting of all nutrients and can be found in broccoli, cauliflower, bell pepper, strawberries, citrus, Brussels sprouts, dark leafy greens, kiwi, parsley, etc.
- Vitamin D also supports the immune system and is often low in winter. Good sources are egg yolks, liver, cold water fish (and sunshine of course).
- Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps the body fight off infection. Good vitamin E sources include nuts, seeds, avocado, asparagus, olives, spinach, tomato, broccoli, peach, and prunes.
- B12 and B6, present in nuts, seeds, dairy, fish, meat, poultry, avocado, banana
- High-quality protein, essential for healing and repair and found in organic meat, cheese, eggs, dairy, fish, nuts, seeds, quinoa, lentils, beans, etc.
- Zinc is critical to immune function and helps prevent and relieve the common cold. It’s especially high in oysters, and can also be found in crab, grass-fed and organic beef, calf’s liver, sesame and pumpkin seeds.
- Selenium is another natural immune booster and is especially high in brazil nuts - 3 to 4 unshelled nuts have all the selenium one needs per day. Other great sources are crimini mushrooms, garlic, cod, shrimp, tuna, halibut, salmon, scallops, chicken, eggs, shiitake mushrooms, lamb, and turkey.
- Healthy fats: small amounts at each meal found in nuts, seeds and their oils, extra virgin olive oil, avocado, olives, fatty fish, grass-fed butter
- Coconut oil contains lauric acid which has a proven effect on strengthening the immune system, and has antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral qualities
- Fermented foods: sauerkraut, miso, kombucha, yoghurt, kefir, tempeh. These contain probiotics, or "good" bacteria, which help strengthen the immune system.
- Medicinal mushrooms like shiitake, reishi, and maitake
In winter I recommend supplementing, depending on your individual nutrient deficiencies of course. Below are a few immunity-supporting supplements to consider (always check with your GP or nutrition counsellor before taking supplements):
- Vitamin C: prefer whole-food sources such as acerola berries
- Zinc: prefer glycinate or picolinate for optimal absorption
- Vitamin D: best sources are vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) or fish liver oil
- Probiotics: such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, have proven positive effects on our immune health. Definitely to be taken right after a course of antibiotics.
- Echinacea: is quite effective to combat colds and flu. It’s important though to take breaks to optimize its efficiency, so take for 3 weeks and rest one week.
2. AVOID OR LIMIT THESE IMMUNE SUPPRESSORS
- Refined carbohydrates (white pasta, white bread, white rice, white flour, pastries, etc.)
- Reactive foods or foods to which you’re intolerant or allergic
- Trans fats and damaged fats in fried foods, rancid oils, and packaged foods
- Alcohol & tobacco
- Toxins found in non-organic food (link), household products, tap water, personal care products, etc.
3. DRINK WATER
Drink lots and lots of water, especially when you’re combatting an illness. It keeps all your cells in shape and literally helps flush out toxins, waste, and debris.
I know, that’s a tricky one for many parents. But one to keep in mind because evidence shows that a good night's sleep boosts our immune system. So benefit from the shorter days to get yourself and your kids to bed early.
5. LIMIT STRESS
Another of those “easier said than done” tips, but scientifically proven and super important in keeping our immune system happy. Explore different stress-management techniques and see what works best for you, whether that’s yoga, meditation, nature, time with friends, creativity, or any other soothing activity.
6. LIMIT OTC MEDICATION:
Unless the pain is really unbearable, I always recommend to avoid or limit the use of painkillers like ibuprofen or other NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories). These damage the gut and weaken our immune functions.
When my kids have fever I don’t easily give them medication to reduce their temperature, because fever is our body’s natural mechanism to eliminate pathogens. So I prefer not to interfere with this beautiful gift from nature.
Feel free to share your best tips to keep your nest healthy in the comment box below!
Related post: Immunity explained to a 5-year-old.