About the contributor: Today’s blog is written by Amber Trejo, MS & CPT.
Winter is coming and it’s no secret that during these cold months we are more susceptible to falling ill with a cold, the flu and now coronavirus. Getting sick in the winter may seem inevitable but truthfully, it really isn’t! It is all about preparation when it comes to staying well during this cold and flu season.
To help protect ourselves from falling ill, we should be taking proactive measures to help prep our bodies to fend off harmful germs. The good news is that through nutrition, some supplementation and lifestyle modifications, we can help support our immune system to better fend off viruses and keep us healthy during this coming winter. There are several key nutrients I recommend we get through our foods that help keep our immune system strong during the fall and winter season and I am excited to share these nutrients and where to find them with you!
Vitamin A Foods
Vitamin A is not only for better eyesight, it is a really important nutrient when it comes to supporting healthy cell turnover. This vitamin is also needed in the production of mucosa, which acts as a protective barrier against infections. Vitamin A is found in a few of our favorite foods and if we are eating vitamin A rich foods a few times a week, it will be hard to become deficient. Some other foods are high in antioxidant beta-carotene which is converted to vitamin A, like sweet potatoes.
Sources: Sweet potatoes, dark leafy greens, squash, carrots, papaya, eggs, liver and milk. Maybe you won't remember these foods specifically when food shopping for vitamin A rich foods, so a good rule of thumb is to remember the color orange and think of leaves (spinach, kale, collards).
Vitamin D Foods
One major contribution to becoming more susceptible to sickness in the colder months is due to the lower vitamin D3 levels. As we spend more time indoors, wear clothing that keeps our arms and heads covered, we receive less sunshine which is our main source of the essential nutrient. As we study the role of vitamin D and its role in our overall health, we realize this nutrient does a lot more than supporting healthy bones; low levels of vitamin D3 is linked to increased risk of depression and diseases like heart disease, the flu as well as a harder recovery from covid-19. Vitamin D is essential in supporting a strong immune system as it plays a role in our innate immunity response. High levels of vitamin D3 have been shown to be protective against upper respiratory infections and reduced inflammation in some human studies. Due to the high dosage we need of vitamin D3 to reap the benefits, I do suggest investing in a quality supplement that will give you around 1,000 IU during the fall and winter. Of course consult with your physician before taking a supplement first.
Sources: Sunshine, cod liver oil, egg yolks, fatty fish, fortified juices and milk, D3 supplement.
Vitamin C Foods
The most familiar nutrient to us when we think of boosting our immune system is vitamin C. Vitamin C deficiency can impact our overall health. This vitamin is the common go-to for us as soon as we start feeling unwell and for good reason. How vitamin C supports a strong immune system is through its ability to neutralize free radicals and helps direct cells called neutrophils to the infection site for defense. I do recommend getting vitamin C through the diet versus supplementation. Taking too much vitamin C from a supplement may give you some gastrointestinal issues, however through food you can avoid those unpleasant side effects of too much vitamin C.
Sources: citrus fruits like lemons and limes and other fruits like strawberries, pineapple, kiwi and in various vegetables like broccoli, bell peppers and kale.
Vitamin B6 Foods
Vitamin B6 is just as important as all of the other aforementioned vitamins. This vitamin is often overlooked when it comes to getting enough in order to keep our immune system strong. If you are eating a balanced diet, do not smoke and are at a relatively healthy body weight, it will be rare to be deficient in this vitamin, but given the current dietary choices and lifestyle factors of most Americans nowadays, it may be safe to say we may possibly not get enough of B6.
B6 plays a role in macronutrient metabolism, the nervous system and even our immune system. Vitamin B6 supports a healthy immune system because it plays a role in antibody production which is needed in fighting off pathogens as well as helping produce white blood cells and T-cells which help regulate our immune system. With insufficient levels of B6, our immune system will not be as strong.
Think of zinc as vitamin C’s stronger cousin who is responsible for various body functions. This trace mineral is only needed in small amounts but needs to be consumed through diet as our bodies can not synthesize this mineral on its own. Low levels of zinc can make us more susceptible to illness. In order to support our immune system, zinc plays a role in activating T-cells which help regulate our immune system and fighting off infected cells. Zinc when taken as soon as you begin to feel symptoms of being unwell can help reduce the severity and duration of a common cold.
Sources: Red meat, poultry, shellfish, eggs, hemp seeds, lentils and beans.
Other ways to keep our immune system strong is by adopting an exercise routine, sleeping and drinking matcha tea. We should be getting exercise at least 3 days a week. Strength training is important in supporting lean muscle mass. Muscle tissue is anti-inflammatory and because of this, it’s helpful in regulating our immune system. Sleep is very under-rated and most lack adequate sleep. When we sleep, this is the time our bodies go into repair mode and that takes hours to do. If we are not getting at least 7 hours of sleep, we are cutting that repair time in half.
Last thing to do in order to stay healthy this winter is to drink your matcha latte! The antioxidant found in matcha green tea is called Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG). This very powerful antioxidant is one of the main matcha benefits, and will also assist in the production of T-Cells, which reduces inflammation and fights pathogens. You can read more on matcha benefits for skin at our blog here.
Try swapping your other caffeinated beverages for a good ol’ cup of matcha tea, as matcha caffeine is generally lesser. And grab a packet of Aila this winter season!