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I believe food is a form of medicine. I’ve seen firsthand how eating the right balance of immune-supporting foods on a regular basis can protect your body against foreign invaders – and the common cold. But I’m also a mom to two adorable school-aged kids who bring home nearly every germ under the sun!
With the influx of new sensory experiences kids are facing heading back into classrooms and finally getting to “live life” again post-COVID lockdowns, I’ve begun to reevaluate my weekly shopping list to ensure we’re equipped with the “goods” to help keep those illnesses at bay. Here are my favorite foods to enjoy weekly to support immune health and fight the common cold.
If this food is new to you, don’t worry! It’s actually very similar to yogurt (sort of like a thinned out, drinkable version), and it’s a great way to get a natural source of probiotics in. According to a recent 2021 study, kefir may act as a protective dietary supplement against viral infections. While the exact mechanism of action and how kefir’s acidic pH acts can help suppress viruses is still being investigated, researchers believe it’s safe to say adding kefir into your diet can certainly help.
Start by choosing a kefir that excites you. While I’m all for reducing added sugar, I know my kid gets the most excited about the “pink bottle” (raspberry-flavored) kefir and will actually drink it! Rather than stress about the added sugars in it, I focus on the added benefits it’s providing her body and immune system; I then minimize other sources of added sugars throughout the day.
Nuts are a wonderful addition to your diet for a plethora of reasons, but almonds in particular may offer some stellar nutrients that support your immune health. A 1-ounce serving of almonds provides around 7 milligrams of vitamin E, an important vitamin and antioxidant that works to protect your cells from free radicals that can do damage over time. Just one serving a day meets nearly 47% of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adults.
While clinical trials are currently being investigated to further understand the relationship of almonds and immune health, a 2016 published study did find that almond consumption in both parents and children not only improved diet quality in both, but also changed the microbiome composition. With the tremendous amount of research that supports gut health and the immune system (after all, 70% of the immune system is housed in the gut), it’s important to focus on consuming foods daily like almonds that support this connection.
Make your own trail mix for an afternoon snack with almonds, or toss some in your morning smoothie with kefir for a double dose of immune health benefits!
3. Lean Beef
Animal proteins are a wonderful source of zinc. Small but mighty, zinc is an important trace mineral that’s needed for over 100 actions in your body. Not only does it keep your body protected from bacteria and viruses, but it’s also crucial for growth and development early on. While you don’t need to eat a lot of zinc for the mineral to do its job (adults need between 8 to 11 mg, and kids 2 to 11 depending on age), you do need to ensure you have the right sources in your diet to reap its benefits.
Lean beef provides 10 essential vitamins and minerals, including zinc. A 3-ounce serving (or roughly 100 grams) of lean beef provides 3.7 mg of zinc, meeting over a third of what adult females need and anywhere from 50 to 100% of what kids need.
But, remember, too much of a good thing is never a good thing! Zinc has an upper limit, meaning you do not want to “double up” on this nutrient with excessive supplementation or you may find yourself with nausea, cramping, diarrhea, and other not-so-lovely side effects.
Get your kids excited for dinner by whipping up these Baby Meatballs loaded with oats, veggies, and lean beef.
I haven’t met a berry I didn’t like – have you? While the variety of berries at the market offer stellar health benefits, blueberries in particular really rock when you look at their anthocyanin content (that blue pigment, which acts as an antioxidant in your body, getting rid of the bad guys that do harm over time!)
A 2019 review found blueberries offer a host of health benefits ranging from a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and death to benefiting weight maintenance efforts and offering neuroprotective benefits. Scientists concluded that, without question, blueberries should be included in regular diets! However, the exact role they play in human health and altering the microbiome still needs further research in humans. With that said, blueberries, whether conventional, organic, or wild, also provide dietary fiber that provides numerous benefits for the gut, thus in turn benefiting immune health.
Stock up on frozen blueberries (wild are my favorite since they pack double the fiber and more anthocyanins compared to their counterparts) if they aren’t in season. Toss them into your smoothies or quick breads year-round!
5. 100% Orange Juice
A dietitian who lets her kid drink juice? Yes, yes, I do when it provides this much nutritional bang for my buck! 100% orange juice is a staple in my fridge because it’s something I can get my family to enjoy on a regular basis, and it also packs an important nutrient that’s crucial for immune health: vitamin C.
An 8-ounce serving of 100% orange juice provides 83 mg of vitamin C, which equals around 100% or more of the recommended daily amount for kids and almost 100% for adults too (males need around 90 mg per day.)
While I tend to offer my kids 4 ounces of 100% orange juice diluted with some water to help balance out their sugar intake, this still meets over 100% of their needs. And, unlike zinc, the effects of consuming more than the recommended amount of vitamin C aren’t quite as dramatic (though you should still stay within recommended limits and avoid the tolerable upper intake levels found here.)
Now, why care about vitamin C intake? Because this vitamin acts as an antioxidant that helps rid your body again of those free radicals we talked about while also promoting wound healing and helping your body absorb more iron from plant-based non-heme sources.
Drink a glass of orange juice on its own, but double the benefits by pairing it with a spinach omelet (a plant-based source of iron) and allow your body a bigger benefit!
Looking for more foods to consider during common cold and flu season? Add these other 10 RDN-recommended foods to your cart, too!
Featured recipe: Lemon Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes