If you plan on leaving your home anytime in the next three months, chances are, you’re going to cross paths with some pretty nasty germs. Even when they know better, the truth is, the majority of people under the weather still go to work sick. (And to the grocery store sick. And the gym sick. And on and on and on.)
Given that we’re in prime flu season right now, it’s no surprise that one of the first questions that came up during a recent Ask Me Anything in Well+Good’s Facebook group Cook With Us with registered dietitian Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, RD, was how to use healthy winter foods to keep from getting sick. Given that a high proportion of the body’s immune system is actually located in the gut, it’s a very good question; the food-immune system connection is real!
“While everyone is coughing on you, you can protect yourself with food,” Beckerman answered in response to the question. “Your gut plays a role in protecting your immune system.” How exactly? These are the top foods she recommends for keeping your immune system in top shape all winter long.
Yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut all land on Beckerman’s list of foods to add to your grocery haul during winter. “It’s important to have plenty of probiotics to support the gut,” she says. The three listed above are all high in the good bacteria that makes the gut extra happy. Already sick? Sip on miso soup, which also has probiotic benefits and requires a lot less work for the body to digest.
Check out the video below to see how to make your own sauerkraut at home:
Beckerman calls out turmeric specifically as an anti-inflammatory all-star, and pairing it with black pepper makes it better absorbed in the body. In the winter, she adds both spices on top of her morning plate of eggs. You can also blend them into a hot cup of almond or oat milk for nourishing cup of golden milk.
“Add walnuts and pecans to your diet for a rush of antioxidants to fight off germs,” Beckerman says. Antioxidants protect the body from inflammation, so consider these foods your protective shield. Bonus: coffee and dark chocolate are also high in antioxidants.
Last, Beckerman says it’s super important to stay hydrated during the winter—even if you’re not sweating as much as in the summer and may not feel as thirsty. This, she explains, helps keep your cells working properly. When you don’t get enough water, they become tired, and that’s going to make you tired and more susceptible to getting sick.
With more people indoors during the winter months, there are more germs flying around. Using food to keep your immune system up is going to be your best defense. Oh, and don’t forget to get your flu shot and wash your hands, which will both help majorly, too.