Six Ways to Boost Your Immune System During the Holiday Season

“Have fun with flavor and color to boost your immune system this holiday season,” says Professor and Department Chair Anne VanBeber, R.D. With the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 and the holidays around the corner, VanBeber provides easy tips and recommendations of food and drink to consider when planning weeknight and holiday meals.

Liquids

Experts have strongly suggested adding vitamin C to our daily diet to boost immunity during the global pandemic. Lemon is high in vitamin C and, as an antioxidant, this helps our bodies prevent disease and reduce inflammation. VanBeber suggests adding lemon to your water each day.

This advice goes for warm or cold drinks. VanBeber recommends drinking more teas, which tend to contain phytochemicals – biologically active compounds found in plants. “Phyto is the root word for plant, and chemical means compounds, and phytochemicals help fight disease, keep our cells healthy, and boost immunity,” she says.

Red and Purple Foods

Dark red and purple fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, eggplant, raspberries, strawberries and cranberries each contain phytochemicals that boost the immune system. For the holiday season, try preparing fruit salads with these darkcolored berries – you can even squeeze some lemon juice and raw honey on top for added nutrients or cut up fresh mint or add some dried mint from your pantry and add it to the dressing.

Spices and Herbs

Spices and herbs come from different parts of the plant, but they have disease-fighting benefits and nutrients that are equivalent to whole foods. VanBeber suggests incorporating fresh or dried herbs into dishes whenever possible. For example, if you are making mashed potatoes, add garlic or onion powder. If you are making roasted carrots – add some dill.

Beans and Greens

Greens, high in chlorophyll — a powerful antioxidant — are popular during the holidays, and they provide a good source of vitamin A in plant form. Greens are also a significant aspect of the Mediterranean diet. Spinach, broccoli, arugula, kale, turnip greens, romaine and Bibb lettuce need to be emphasized because in the U.S., we often don’t eat enough servings of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. Legumes, such as lentils, kidney beans, pinto beans, or chickpeas are high in fiber, inexpensive and shelf-stable foods. Fiber also protects our gut, which is the first line of defense in our immune system.

Nuts, Seeds and Supplements

Nuts and seeds are foundational to the Mediterranean diet. People who eat nuts are known to have reduced chances of heart disease and other chronic diseases. Nuts such as almonds, walnuts, pistachios, or pecans can easily be added to other vegetable dishes such as green beans or broccoli.

Zinc is known for boosting immunity and wound healing because it helps us build proteins. This is widely found in animal foods such as beef, fish, and oysters as well as tofu and seeds such as pumpkin seeds. Vitamin C and D have been commonly referenced by leading experts during the global pandemic.

Probiotics and Prebiotics

Prebiotic foods such as legumes, onions, garlic, apple skins and bananas help to protect your gut. Probiotics include fermented and cultured foods such as kombucha, yogurt, kefir, miso, tempeh, kimchi and fresh sauerkraut (not canned). All of these foods promote a healthy gut and good bacteria to help us fight off illness. “Overall, we need to focus on eating real foods like fruits, vegetables and good lean meats (if you eat meat), and avoiding prepackaged, high-sodium foods that are devoid of nutritional value,” says VanBeber.

Don’t be afraid to make your holiday dishes fun and be sure to add colorful foods from a variety of food groups.