In recent years, we’ve had to focus on boosting our immune systems to help fight COVID-19. Unfortunately, experts warn that COVID is not the only disease to be wary of this year. The New York Times recently published an article about what medical professionals call a “tridemic,” which is a new term that comes from the increase in flu cases this season, the increase in RSV cases in pediatric hospitals this year, and another ever-present COVID-19 pandemic.
Because of this triple threat to our health this winter, experts suggest people try to build their immunity as much as they can. While a person’s immune status depends on many factors, some of which are beyond our control, one way to focus on a better immune system is to incorporate immune-boosting eating habits into our daily diet.
“If you want to keep your immune system strong against colds, germs, and other illnesses, fill up on whole foods like colorful produce, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and whole grains,” she says. Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, its author The Sports Nutrition Playbook and member of our Medical Expert Board. “These foods are packed with nutrients to help your body stay strong and fight whatever comes its way.”
Read on to learn about more specific eating habits you can adopt today to help fight the impending tridemia.
Load up on antioxidants
One of the best ways to “eat” your way to better immunity is by incorporating more antioxidants into your daily diet.
“Antioxidants like flavonoids, anthocyanins, and carotenoids help fight free radicals (aka the bad guys) that can potentially damage your cells and compromise your immune system,” says Goodson. “And luckily, these nutrients are found in all your colorful produce.” If you’re curious about getting more of these antioxidants into your daily routine, Goodson has some easy tips for common foods you can try.
“Flavonoids are found in berries, kale, cabbage, dark chocolate, tea, and soybeans. Anthocyanins (a type of flavonoid) are naturally occurring pigments that give flowers their red, purple, and blue colors, so “think berries, grapes, pomegranates, and even red wine. And carotenoids are found in orange, yellow, and red produce like summer squash, pumpkin, mango, and apricots,” says Goodson.
Eat foods rich in vitamin C
Vitamin C is a special antioxidant known to help keep your immune system strong and help your body fight disease. You can supplement with this vitamin, but Goodson recommends getting it through your food if you can.
“While you might think of oranges and orange juice – which are rich in vitamin C, you can also get vitamin C from tomatoes and tomato juice, red peppers, other citrus fruits like strawberries, and green vegetables like spinach and green beans.”
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Eat foods high in zinc
People often associate vitamin C with immunity, but “zinc is a powerful mineral that also helps maintain a strong immune system,” says Goodson. And similar to many other vitamins and minerals, you can take zinc supplements if you need to. However, incorporating more zinc into your diet through the foods you eat is simpler than you might think.
“Beef is considered an excellent source of zinc, providing almost half of what you need for the day,” says Goodson. “So choosing a lean red meat at a meal can help you get your fill of this vital nutrient.” If you don’t like red meat, you can also get zinc through “legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy, and even dark chocolate.”
Drink more smoothies
Fruits and vegetables provide your body with important nutrients and antioxidants, but sometimes it can be difficult to get enough portions throughout the day. One solution to this is to make a smoothie full of fruits and vegetables.
“A smoothie packed with antioxidants and immune-boosting ingredients is a great way to prepare your body against the impending tridemia, and it’s a great way to get those nutrients for your kids to protect against RSV as well.” , says. Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD, at Balance One Supplements. “Some ingredients to consider include blueberries, spinach, papaya, flaxseed, kale, mango and ginger. Consider a base of vitamin C-rich natural orange juice or kefir for probiotics.”
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Snack with nuts and seeds
Eating immune-boosting foods at different meal times is beneficial, but what about your snacks between those meals?
“Immune-boosting snacks are a great way to incorporate disease-fighting nutrients. So swap your usual chips or popcorn for nuts and seeds,” says Best. “Nuts like almonds and walnuts or seeds like sunflower and pumpkin contain many vitamins and minerals that help regulate and support the immune system. These nutrients include B6, phosphorus, selenium and magnesium, along with healthy fats that help reduce inflammation. otherwise it can affect immune function.”
Enjoy some fermented foods
And last but certainly not least, eating a healthy dose of fermented foods can “provide probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria, that support immune function,” says Best. “Probiotics can help the immune system by secreting substances that trigger the immune system to react more strongly, thus preventing pathogens from being able to take root and cause disease.”
If you’re looking for delicious probiotic-rich foods, Best recommends yogurt with live active cultures, cheeses like gouda, mozzarella, and cheddar, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, apple cider vinegar, miso, and kimchi.