‘Tis the season of “more” and that includes more stress, travel, processed foods, alcohol and sleep deprivation. Amid the fun, shopping and schlepping, it’s easy to let your healthy habits slide and allow your energy to sap, which increases your vulnerability to the cold, flu and other ailments. But you don’t have to succumb to a holiday season sickness this year. Whenever you get a chance, try incorporating the following foods and nutrients into your meals to survive the holiday frenzy.
Water. To avoid mental fog, headaches and hangovers, there’s nothing better than good ol' trusty H2O. The human brain is 85 percent water and needs to stay hydrated for proper functioning. Drinking water also aids in digestion and elimination and gives your skin a healthy glow. Aim for several eight-ounce glasses daily.
Garlic. Well-known for building immunity and fighting infections like the flu, garlic is certainly a staple among healthy cooks. However, heat kills a key active ingredient, so add crushed raw garlic to foods just before serving.
Potassium. Bananas are rich in potassium and can help lower blood pressure (which you just might need to endure all the errant remarks at family gatherings).
Selenium. Found in abundance in mushrooms, selenium helps boost immunity by stimulating the production of killer T-cells, which fight infections. And you don’t need expensive, wild-foraged fungus to reap these benefits—the humble white button mushroom has equal amounts of selenium and disease-fighting antioxidants as the fancy varieties.
Vitamin D. Button mushrooms are also packed with vitamin D, which is essential for a strong immune system, among other things. Sunlight triggers the skin’s production of vitamin D, but winter sun is too feeble to help. Fatty fish (like salmon, trout and tuna) as well as fortified milk are also great sources of vitamin D.
Magnesium. A few chopped almonds atop sweet potatoes will help everyone’s metabolism and blood pressure (again, for the maddening relatives). Seeds, bananas, cashews, tofu, broccoli, peas, oatmeal and milk are all rich in magnesium.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Perhaps you should make salmon your holiday centerpiece. The omega-3s are great for heart health and immunity, and research shows they protect from respiratory infections by boosting the activity of phagocytes, the cells that fight the flu by eating up bacteria. Fish like halibut, herring, mackerel, sardines, trout and fresh tuna are great sources omega-3s.
Probiotics. Yogurt for breakfast provides probiotics, the “good” bacteria that help keep your digestive system healthy by controlling the growth of harmful bacteria. Probiotics can decrease the “bad” bacteria in your gut that cause infections and inflammation. Eat kefir, miso, tempeh, kimchi and sauerkraut, which all pack a hefty probiotic punch.
Zinc. Taking a zinc supplement at the start of a cold may shorten it. Zinc helps slow the virus’s growth in the nose and throat. Don’t take more than 50 mg a day, or you can actually suppress your immune system.
Astragalus. This root has antiviral and immune-enhancing properties, and is a staple in Traditional Chinese Medicine to ward off colds and flu. There’s one caveat: Astragalus may take six to eight weeks to reach its full effect, so start taking it right away.
Echinacea. This dried root stimulates immunity and helps the body resist bacteria and viruses. Take 300 mg daily to help prevent the common cold.
Also, make time for meditation to relax and reduce your stress levels. You’ll sleep better and feel less anxiety, too, both of which is good for your immune system. After all, you want to enjoy the festivities, not stay home in bed with a bad cold. Healthy Holidays!
- Science Daily: Button Mushrooms Contain As Much Anti-oxidants As Expensive Ones
- Medical News Today: Mushrooms: Health Benefits, Nutritional Information
- Health: 13 Foods High in Magnesium
- Everyday Health: 10 Simple and Natural Ways to Boost Your Immune System
- Health: 12 Ways to Get Your Daily Vitamin D
- Cleveland Clinic: Eat These Foods to Boost Your Immune System
- WebMD: Your Omega-3 Shopping List
- Cleveland Clinic: Probiotics
- Prevention: Immunity
- Dr. Weil: 5 Ways to Build Your Immune System
- Dr. Weil: More Potassium, Please
- Dr. Weil: Magnesium
- Mayo Clinic: Echinacea
- Dr, Weil: 6 reasons to drink water
- Mayo Clnic: Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress