Boost The Immune System: 6 Top Foods for Preventing Sickness

Here it comes! The back and forth of cold and warm. Fall's fickleness is upon us, and winter is quickly approaching. It's the most confusing time of the year: jacket on or off? Soup or salad? Leave heat off or turn it on? Shorts or jeans? 

Lots of uncertainty. But one thing you can predict like my husband's snoring: the sicknesses are coming. They might not be there yet. But you know that someone around you somewhere is going to get sick. 

So we need to boost the immune system of our bodies and those of our loved ones. Armor up the household, get ready for the battle of your white blood cells. Prepare those blood cells like a sergeant. 

The best way to prep your IS (immune system) is through food. Fresh, unprocessed, seasonal, organic if possible. 

Lifestyle Tips to Prepare for Sickness Season:

Yes, there are many things you can do besides for to eat the right things, and JUST IN CASE you haven't heard them enough, I'll tell you right now:

  • Sleep your ass off
  • Drink a ton of clean, purified water
  • Get in the sunshine (more on that later)
  • Reduce stress through yoga and meditation (what what)
  • Get some exercise 
  • Open the windows as much as possible to air out the house of traveling pathogens
  • Basically as a summation of 3 of the 5 tips above: get outside 

And we just can't talk about the immune system without talking about the things you shouldn't do like...

Good ole list of things that are bad for the immune system:

  • alcohol
  • stress
  • smoking
  • foods with a lot of processed sugar
  • too much caffeine
  • like I said, processed and packaged foods

There, we've talked about what should and should not be done! Now let's get down to what counts, what we need in our pantries, freezers and fridges that will keep us vibrant, energetic and healthy.

Top 6 Foods for Preventing Sickness:

1. Brazil nuts:

WHAT.. bet you didn't see that one coming. Well, the thing about Brazil nuts is that one or two Brazil nuts contain your whole RDA of selenium for the day.

And here's why selenium is so badass: selenium is a vital part of the body's detoxification process. And detoxification is so super-important for the immune system. There have been studies that have linked selenium deficiency to poor immune system functioning. 

But selenium can easily be replenished with a couple of Brazil nuts. Sure, they're not your favorite in the mixed nuts can, but it's easy to get used to them and start to like them. If you're shaking your head, "No I can't eat those big things when they are right next to the delicious cashews and almonds. I do not like them, Sam I Am." Then okay...

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How about some spinach, eggs, crimini mushrooms, salmon, asparagus, brown rice, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds? Those foods have a good amount of selenium for preventing illness too.

2. Garlic:

Besides for being so wonderfully tasty in Italian dishes, garlic is a blood purifier. So that makes it wonderful for the heart too. Garlic contains something called allicin, and allicin scavenges for free radicals in the body. It also protects cells from damage and stimulates the proliferation of lymphocytes and macrophages (basically garbage truck-like cells that just go around eating foreign substances and pathogens and toxins in the body). 

Not only that, but garlic activates Phase I and Phase II of liver detoxification. And the liver is so very important for immunity. If you cannot get rid of toxins, the IS is in trouble. On top of THAT, it balances the microbiome because it's very anti-bacterial. The good kind of antibiotic. 

3. Cod liver oil:

Yum, sounds delicious, right? Relax there, my friend. Cod liver oil can be supplemented. It's not like you have to pour cod liver oil into your soups or dress your salads with it. But the mainreason you want the cod liver oil:

Vitamin D! Which is really important to reduce inflammation (which is actually a by-product of a working immune system--the problem is that the immune system is working too much, and if inflammation is rampant we have a whole host of other issues). Inflammation leads to more inflammation so we have to put s stopper on it at some point, you know?

So you can get vitamin D by going out into the sunlight and letting it absorb a bit into your skin. But during cold weather months, that is probably not possible for you. As your health coach, I cannot advise that you go out into the cold wearing a swimsuit to soak up sunlight. 

So that's why we should supplement cod liver oil. And I recommend the Nordic Naturals brand for all fish oil products. 

More good stuff on cod liver oil and Vitamin D: vitamin D signals an anti-microbial response. It also regulates and proliferates B cells (white blood cells that are made and mature in the bone marrow). 

4. Mushrooms:

If you've been paying attention, you noticed we've already mentioned crimini mushrooms. So double up on mushrooms this fall and winter because not only do they contain selenium, but they also contain a substance called beta-glucans. Beta-gluccans, along with some other proteins in mushrooms stimulate the immune system. 

Mushrooms increase Natural Killer cells (NK cells--think they are the assasins of the white blood cell family) and macrophages (garbage trucks). So they stimulate the first line of defense against infection. 

What kind of mushrooms? Reishi, shiitake, crimini, maitake, even button and portabella! 

5. Nutritional Yeast:

I feel like I write about Nutritional Yeast in every single nutrition post on this site. Talk about it in every workshop. But I know why. Because besides for taking a B-complex supplement, Nutritional Yeast is the tastiest, easiest way to get your B vitamins.

And let's face it, the B vitamins are important for everything. EVERYTHING. They are co-factors for basically most of the body's processes. But they are especially important for energy production. We need energy more than ever when it comes to getting sick. 

B6 is especially depleted during stressful times. And studies have shown that B6 deficiency depresses the immune system. So sprinkle some yeast on your popcorn, on your eggs, on your pasta, in your soup, on top of your salad. It's delicious. Keep a big ole bottle in your cabinet or pantry. 

6. Sweet potatoes: 

Again, I feel like I talk about sweet potatoes all the time. I know we are cooking them like crazy in my house because it's one of the only things my son will eat when it comes to vegetables. But the biggest, most beautiful thing about sweet potatoes is their gigantic amount of vitamin A. 

Not only is a deficiency in vitamin A associated with impaired immunity, but also it maintains mucosal surfaces, which are really really important for white blood cell activity and so influences B and T cells and cytokines. Vitamin A also supports the production of lymphocytes. 

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So there are the top 6 foods to prevent illness and boost your immune system. The body is amazing! 

What other foods are your go-to foods for prevention? Any cold weather secrets we should know? Comment below.

Related: 7 Best Foods for Times of Stress

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