Your Guide for Staying Healthy During Winter

We are deep in that time of year where we are all worried about getting the flu or a bad cold. Sometimes it feels like we are surrounded by sick ones. We all know to eat our vitamin C (citrus, melons, peppers, cruciferous, leafy greens, potatoes, tomatoes) and zinc (baked beans, shellfish, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, oatmeal, almonds) as much as possible this time of year, but what else can we do?  What about supplements?  What lifestyle choices can I make for a stronger immune system?

I pride myself for having an awesome immune system.  I do not get the flu shot and I rarely get sick (*knocks on wood*).  To avoid the mucus, coughs, sneezing, runny noses, sore throats, etc. here is the extra care and targeted nutrition that I recommend.

5 Tips for Staying Healthy During Winter

  1. Eat the Rainbow – Food is your #1 best source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrition for your immune system, so please make sure you fill half your plate with non-starchy colorful veggies daily. It is important to consider nutrient dense, vitamin C rich foods during this time such as citrus, melons, peppers, leafy greens, tomatoes, cruciferous, and potatoes.
  2. Wash Your Hands – Washing your hands is the first line of defense against invaders.  After working in a hospital setting for many years as a Registered Dietitian, you get very used to washing your hands (all the time). To this day, this is still a habit that I have before I put anything in my mouth or when I walk in the door.  It is important to vigorously wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm, soapy water.
  3. Exercise – Did you know exercising is also great for building your immune system?  Exercising allows your white blood cells (white blood cells defend your body against infection) to circulate quickly throughout your body and also supports a healthy respiratory system.  Since I lived in Cleveland, OH for a few years, I now enjoy walking in cold weather, but if the cold is not your thing, you can still get your body moving daily indoors. Aim for at least 30 minutes of movement daily.
  4. Stay Hydrated – It is so imperative that you stay well hydrated for a healthy immune system to do its job. Sip on hot herbal teas and warm brothy soups for some added hydration and benefits. Try this gingery, cinnamony tea for a warming and hydrating experience!
  5. Supplements That Support Your Immune System
  • Vitamin D – If you are deficient in Vitamin D (blood levels lower than 20 ng/dL – get this checked routinely with your primary care doctor), then supplementing with Vitamin D may help with decreasing the risk of the flu and other respiratory infections. The typical recommendation for people with low blood levels of Vitamin D is 800-1000IU daily, but always listen to your doctor’s recommendations.
  • NAC or N-Acetyl-Cysteine – This might be a new one to you.  It is converted to an antioxidant in the body and it comes from the amino acid L-cysteine. Taken daily during flu season, it has shown to significantly reduce the symptoms of the flu, but not flu occurrence. It has historically been used to break up mucus.  Evidence is still weak for the recommended daily amount.
  • Elderberry –  This is a small purple berry from the European elder bush that is rich in anthocyanosides. Laboratory tests have shown that elderberry has immune-stimulating and anti-microbial properties. However, no studies have shown that elderberry prevents cold or flu, but it can reduce the duration of a cold or flu symptoms.  The most effective dosing has not yet been determined.
  • Zinc – Zinc is an essential mineral that is found in some foods (highest in meat sources so it is more difficult for vegetarians and vegans to get optimal amounts without supplementation). Zinc lozenges have shown may lower the amount of time you have the common cold. There is no evidence that zinc helps with the flu.  It is important to note that high levels of zinc can be unsafe. The Upper Tolerable Limit for zinc is 40mg.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

How will you be supporting your immune system this winter?

Katie Abbott, MS, RDN, INHC

Author Katie Abbott, MS, RDN, INHC

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