5 Best Winter Immune System Boosters

January 29, 2014

Between freezing cold outside and dry, hot air inside, less motivation to be active and only a handful of daylight hours, it’s easy for your immune system to weaken during winter. Signs of a compromised immune system might be chronic fatigue, colds, flu, frequent or lasting infections, and lethargy. Like any other time of year, regular exercise, plenty of fruits and vegetables, adequate sleep and hydration are the foundation for a healthy body. But if you are in need of extra help, here are some healing immune system boosters that will keep you illness-free.

winter immune boost by lisa widerberg

1. Zinc

This essential mineral doesn’t get much mention, compared to antioxidants like Vitamin C or phytochemicals. But according to a new meta-study examining 67 previous studies, zinc–not Vitamin C–is the key nutrient in preventing and fighting colds. The meta-study also concluded that common traditional remedies like vapor rubs, ginseng, and echinacea had no clear benefits. Alas, zinc is predominantly found in red meat and shellfish like oysters; furthermore, phytates present in whole grains, legumes, and cereals bind to the zinc and inhibit its absorption. So vegans have to be extra vigilant about getting adequate amounts from plant sources like cashews, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and fortified foods.

According to the guidelines set forth by the National Institute of Health, you can reduce the binding of phytates and “increase the bioavailability” of zinc by soaking the beans, seeds, and grains and sprouting them. Here are some recipes you can try that are zinc-approved:

Spring Rolls with Alfalfa Sprouts and Peanut Ginger Sauce (Plus how to grow your own sprouts)

Pumpkin seed Crusted Tofu with Roasted Veggies (include shiitake mushrooms for extra dose of zinc. Mushrooms are also some of the strongest immune boosting ingredients)

vegan harvest bowl2

Raw Vegan Pizza with Sprouted Nut Cheese 

Raw Vegan Ravioli with Sprouted Walnut Pesto

2. Beta-Carotene (Vitamin A)

Vitamin A is not just good for your eyes–it’s also a crucial immune system booster. It increases white blood cells, and even acts as a barrier against harmful bacteria. Beta-carotene is a type of Vitamin A that is found in orange-red vegetables. Eating plenty of carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squashes, cantaloupe, even broccoli will ensure that you get adequate amounts.

carrot orange ginger tonic by breville

For an immune-boosting Vitamin A drink, try this Carrot Orange Ginger Elixir.

-1 lb organic carrots, peeled and trimmed

-3-4 medium oranges, peeled

-1 tbsp grated fresh ginger

Orange contributes Vitamin C, while ginger brings anti-inflammatory benefits.

3. Turmeric

If there is a spice that can do it all, it is turmeric. According to studies, this powerful ingredient has antioxidant (fights free radicals and premature aging), anti-cancer, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory benefits. This is good news year-round, but this warming spice is especially beneficial during the cold winter months. Reap even more benefits by using fresh turmeric root, which looks similar to ginger root.

turmeric root teaHow to Make Your Own Turmeric Root Tea!

4. Coconut oil

The lauric acid, caprylic acid and capric acid in coconut oil have antifungal, antibacterial, and even antiviral prosperities. When ingested, lauric acid is turned into monolaurin, which is claimed to help heal viruses such as herpes, influenza, and yeast infection.

coconut oil by phu thinh co

5. Vitamin D

Yes, it’s one of the 3 essential nutrient supplements that vegans should be taking. One of the many functions of Vitamin D is keep seasonal colds/influenza at bay. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, children who took Vitamin D supplements were 40% less likely to catch the common cold than those who took placebo pills. It’s also a mood-stabilizer and attention-booster, so you will stay sharp, focused and calm, even through cold and dark winter months. If it’s a possibility where you live, try to go outside and catch some natural light every day. In addition to supplements, fortified foods like almond milk and vegan nutrition bars are some great sources of Vitamin D.

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Photo: Lisa Widerberg via Flickr; Peaceful Dumpling; Breville via Flickr; Christine Oppenheim; Phu Thinh Co via Flickr

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Originally from Portland, Oregon, Juhea now lives in NYC with her Oreo cookie cat, Zeus. When she is not writing, she enjoys running in Central Park, yoga, and teaching Barre classes. Follow Juhea on Instagram @peacefuldumpling, Google+ and Pinterest.

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