When the seasons change, our eating habits change. Some of that has to do with centuries of DNA programming that makes us want certain foods that we need when it gets cold out. Some of it is just societal, or cultural. Maybe you grew up enjoying certain food traditions during the fall and winter, like big stews on Sundays, or homemade bread fresh out of the oven for breakfast. Something about the cold weather makes us want to retreat back to a time when we felt safe, cozy, and cared for. For many, that’s childhood, and food is a great way to transport yourself back to a different phase of your life.
Food isn’t just nostalgic, though. It plays a big role in our immune system. Some medical experts would argue that diet is at the root of every major medical issue. We know that it can help our bodies better fight off certain diseases. Meanwhile, some foods are linked to some illnesses. Cold and flu season is a time when we should pay attention to how the foods we consume affect our immunity. Seeing as this cold and flu season will hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, you may want to pay extra attention to your eating habits. Here are fall eating habits that boost and suppress immunity.
Immunity-boosting: Apple picking
Look up your nearest apple farm, grab your baskets, and book your visit. Apple picking is one fall activity that can help your immune system. Fall produces its own special apples, all of which are packed with immunity-boosting vitamin C. They also contain a plant figment flavonoid called quercetin that is good for your immunity.
Immunity-suppressing: Meaty stews
You might be craving meat-heavy dishes like stew, meatloaf, and pot roast right now. It could be your cavemen ancestors thinking they need to fuel up for hibernation. But, meat is high in acid, and acid messes with your pH levels, which negatively impacts certain minerals in the body that are important for immunity. It can also be inflammatory, and when your body is busy fighting off inflammation, it can’t have as much energy to fight off viruses.
Immunity-boosting: Garlic on everything
Garlic is a popular addition to a lot of fall and winter foods. You may add roasted garlic cloves to your oven-baked dishes, or dice it up and put it in marinades. And you should, because this smelly but healthful ingredient has sulfur-containing compounds like allicin that are good for immunity and can help you fight infections.
Immunity-suppressing: “Bad” carbs
Don’t believe the old adage that carbs can be comforting. You have your thermostat and pets for that. So hands off all the dinner rolls. White bread can cause inflammation in the body and, as mentioned, when your body is busy fighting inflammation, infection can sneak in. White bread also often has additives that harm your immunity.
Immunity-boosting: Roasted poultry
If you feel like looking up some classic winter dishes like Coq Au Vin, roasted Cornish Game Hen, or a traditional Thanksgiving turkey, go for it. Poultry contains B-6, which helps in the formation of healthy red blood cells. Meanwhile, chicken broth contains several compounds good for immunity including gelatin and chondroitin.
Immunity-suppressing: Dried fruit
Dried fruit seems to be everywhere once the cold weather arrives. It’s in warm boozy drinks, baked desserts, and breakfast pastries. Unfortunately, dried fruit is incredibly high in sugar, and when your body experiences a spike in blood sugar, that can suppress your immune system. Stick to fresh fruits, even if they aren’t as festive as the dried stuff.
Treat yourself to some nice hot cups of tea. Not only is the hot liquid comforting, but some popular teas, like Green tea and ginger tea, can boost immunity. Green tea is full of immunity-boosting antioxidants. Meanwhile, ginger has anti-inflammatory properties, so if do you eat inflammatory foods, some ginger tea can help your body deal with it.
Immunity-suppressing: Ready-made pasta
Sometimes, you need something quick but you also want something warm and comforting. So you may reach for canned ravioli, noodles, or other pasta dishes. But, keep in mind that canned items like these often have additives that can harm your immune system. They’re also high in sodium, and too much sodium can lead to increased levels of something called glucocorticoid cortisone – that’s something you don’t want, as it can suppress the immune system.
Immunity-boosting: Warm cereal
If you crave your oatmeal, muesli, porridge, or other hot cereal on cold fall mornings, go for it. Just remember to add wheat germ. Sprinkle a spoonful on top of your preferred cereal. It’s high in zinc, vitamin E, and vitamin B, each of which helps fortify your immune system. It’s also a good source of fiber to keep you regular, and a healthy gut and good immunity go hand in hand.
You probably saw this one coming. And, it may be a disappointment since, between the pandemic, the election, and the cold weather, you might want your drinks. However, alcohol negatively impacts immune cells in many of your body’s major organs. It also causes a blood sugar spike, which we now know suppresses the immune system.
Immunity-boosting: Sweet potatoes
Sweet potato mash, baked sweet potatoes, sweet potato pie – however you want to eat this gorgeous orange vegetable, just make sure you add it to your grocery list. Sweet potatoes are high in beta-carotene, which your body turns into vitamin A. Vitamin A is an important part of a strong immune system.
Immunity-suppressing: Cheese platters
Even if you aren’t hosting your usual holiday parties because of the pandemic, you may still be imbibing in a nice cheese platter (maybe to accompany all that wine you probably shouldn’t be drinking). Unfortunately, dairy can cause mucus, and mucus is a symptom of immunity-suppressing inflammation. Even raw dairy products contain hormones that can mess with immunity.
Immunity-boosting: Miso soup
If you enjoy miso soup, you’re in luck, because it can be good for your immune system. Just look for the low-sodium stuff, since too much salt can be bad for your immunity. Miso is made from fermented soybeans, which are loaded with probiotics. Probiotics can lead to healthy gut flora, and a healthy gut is important for a functioning immune system.
Immunity-suppressing: Bratwursts during the game
If football Sundays are a big deal around your house, you may indulge in things like bratwursts and hot dogs. Even if you aren’t tailgating during the pandemic, you may still crave the traditional tailgate food. Unfortunately, processed meat is high in acid and salt, both of which are hard on your immune system. The chemicals in some of these don’t do your immune system any favors, either.
Immunity-boosting: Pomegranate juice
If you love to put this beautiful red fruit in everything this time of year, go for it. Add it to your yogurt or cereal. Make a meat marinade with it. And, of course, have its juice. Pomegranate extract has antiviral properties and can promote good gut bacteria for better overall immunity.