Nourishing Your Immune System – Winter Nutrition
Welcome to our new educational blog series, The Nutritionist Is In. Each month our food nutritionist, Noah Huffer, will be discussing a wide range of food nutrition related topics. Posts will cover subjects such as foods that promote better immunity, healthy food additives, key ingredients on the path to wellness and a whole lot more. This month we will be discussing Winter Nutrition.
It is our hope that you will not only get a glimpse of what our nutritionist does on a day to day basis, but that we will be a resource for nutritional advice and your connection to healthy food development. Our passion at Food Business Consulting is developing and producing food that is nutritious and delicious.
Keeping your body well-nourished during the winter can be difficult. As the days shorten and the temperature drops, we spend more hours inside and often, less time exercising. Cold temperatures, less daylight and less exercise contribute to a breakdown in our bodies ability to fight off colds and viruses. While humans certainly aren’t hibernators, to some degree our bodies do follow seasonal rhythms. One biological component that does seem to be affected by abrupt seasonal changes is our immune system. For those of us that live in areas which experience large seasonal temperature fluctuations, during colder months our immune system’s kick into high gear.
In contrast, during warmer months fresh fruits and vegetables are more readily available. Summertime also brings along longer days. The dog days of summer provide ample opportunity to soak up the sun’s rays, exercise and enjoy fresh air. As a result, we develop powerful antioxidants. Being that we’re outside more often, we also receive an abundance of Vitamin D due to UV light absorption. Consistent exercise keeps our metabolisms up and reduces stress. Due to so many positive contributing factors, our immune systems receive a great boost not found during other times of the year.
With the onset of winter, it’s critical that we eat foods which our body can convert into germ fighting troopers. However, eating healthy throughout the winter months can be challenging. Likely one of the toughest diet challenges is the overabundance of sweets and packaged foods. Winter just so happens to be the time that many of us celebrate some of the year’s more festive holidays. Most winter celebrations are packed with everything we shouldn’t be eating. While munching on a few cookies or pieces of candy here and there is expected, consuming too many unhealthy options can be problematic. A well balanced and nutrient-dense diet filled with a variety of colorful plants, protein, and healthy fats helps to manage inflammation and prevent infection and even chronic disease.
Great Foods To Boost Immunity
When planning your weekly winter meals or when shopping at the local grocery store, there are a few essential items that everyone should plan on purchasing. While this isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, these foods should be consumed weekly in order to nourish and sustain your immune system.
- Excellent antimicrobial (anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal),, and immune enhancer. Garlic contains sulfur compounds which are believed to give health benefits. In addition garlic is packed with antioxidants which can positively affect damage caused by free radicals.
Vitamin C Rich Foods
- High doses of vitamin C have not been found to reduce the risk of cold viruses. However, vitamin C is believed to provide protection against immune system deficiencies, cardiovascular disease and prenatal health problems. Citrus fruits like oranges, mandarins, guava, bell peppers (red, yellow, green), grapefruits, peaches, kiwi, tomatoes, lemon, pineapple, broccoli, and strawberries are excellent sources of vitamin C.
Fermented Foods and Other Probiotics
- Increasing the amount and variety of good bacteria in your gut directly enhances your immunity. Fermented foods are packed with probiotic bacteria and enzymes that positively affect your gut microbiome and digestive system which positively affects your immune system. Add more foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kombucha, plain yogurt and kefir.
Colorful Fruits and Veggies
- Phytonutrients found in the pigment (color) of plants have a plethora of benefits ranging from immune system support to fighting off disease. Interestingly, phytonutrients are used by plants to defend against germs, fungi and bugs. Ingesting colorful fruits and veggies also defends our bodies from harmful germs. There are over 25,000 phytonutrients found in plant foods. Some of those are Carotenoids, Ellagic Acid, Flavonoids, Resveratrol and Phytoestrogens – to name a few.
Foods to Avoid
- Sugar stresses the body causing an increase in inflammation and a weakening of the immune system. After ingesting sugar, your immune system functions sub-optimally for hours! Some studies have found that the effectiveness of your white blood cells (what we use to fight off infections) can be decreased by as much as 50% after consuming sugar. While the holidays are a terrible time to completely stay away from sugar, it’s best to limit your intake.
- Saturated fats and high omega-6 fats are pro-inflammatory causing a weakening of the immune system. Foods high in saturated fats can “short-circuit” immune cells which produce an inappropriate inflammatory response. It’s best to limit your intake of foods like cakes, biscuits and pastries. As the old adage goes, “All things in moderation”.
- Packaged and pre-prepared foods are usually full of sugar and unhealthy fats as well as a plethora of other chemicals to help preserve and flavor the food. These additives burden the digestive and detoxification system resulting in decreased immunity. A wise rule of thumb is to keep most of your grocery shopping around the edges of the store where fresh fruits, vegetables and meats are located. As you begin picking up more items within the interior, the more likely those foods will be processed.
This year we’re getting a double whammy – the holidays AND the pandemic. Due to being at home more than past years, people are eating more food and baking more often. On top of all that, staying inside means less chances for fresh air and exercise. It is more important than ever to closely watch what you eat, get a good night’s rest and maintain an active exercise regimen. Actively shopping for the right ingredients will help put you on the right path for proper winter nutrition. If you take more interest in the foods you purchase and the recipes you make, you’ll very likely improve your immune system and overall health.