At this point, most of us know that the very best thing we can do to give our immune system a boost is to get our COVID-19 vaccine and flu shot, and a COVID booster, if you’re eligible.
But as the days grow darker and colder and we’re faced with a possible “twindemic” — meaning we’ll be dealing with the flu on top of COVID cases, which are still raging — we’re all looking to get an extra immunity boost where we can.
Enter nourishing foods and beverages, which are packed with vitamins and minerals that will do their best to keep us strong and healthy this season, or, at the very least, help us get better more quickly if we do get sick.
While healthy food is not a replacement for a vaccine, it can certainly help. Here are the immune-boosting fall foods nutritionists want you to add to your grocery cart right now.
As it turns out, pumpkin isn’t just good for flavoring our October coffee beverages and our November pies. It’s also great for the immune system. “This beautiful orange fall vegetable is packed with vitamin C and A, two very important nutrients for our immune system,” explained Maggie Michalczyk, registered dietitian and founder of Once Upon a Pumpkin. “Vitamin C acts as a powerful antioxidant helping to ward off illness, and vitamin A works to enhance immune function. One cup of pumpkin contains over 200% of your daily vitamin A requirements.”
Buying and scooping out a whole pumpkin takes a lot of work, not to mention, cooking pumpkin often produces a watery, bland result. Your best bet to incorporate pumpkin into your diet is actually canned! Just make sure you’re buying 100% pure pumpkin ― Libby’s, for example, is made of calabaza squash and contains no preservatives. (You can buy it here.) Just make sure you don’t buy canned pumpkin pie filling, which contains sugar and spices and will absolutely ruin a pasta dish.
There’s a reason honey is so soothing when you’re sick. “Research has shown that honey has a wide array of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and antioxidants as well as flavonoids and phenolic acids, which act as antioxidants, helping to keep our body more protected from illness and disease,” Michalczyk noted. “Additionally, honey is also a natural cough soother and energy booster, making it great to pair with other immunity-boosting ingredients like citrus fruits, ginger and green tea.” Next time you drink a cup of tea, make sure to spoon in some honey
You can turn it into pizza, rice and much more. Oh, and cauliflower is great for your immune system.
“Cauliflower is in season in the fall and a great source of vitamin C, helping to keep our immune system running smoothly,” Michalczyk said. “Similar to other cruciferous vegetables, cauliflower is also high in antioxidants, which help combat inflammation and protect against illness and disease. Roast it up with other fall vegetables like sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts for a flavorful side dish.”
While we’re on the subject of cruciferous vegetables, Kylene Bogden, a registered dietitian and wellness advisor for Love Wellness, said that Brussels sprouts are a great one. “Say hello to one of the most powerful cruciferous vegetables on the market,” she told HuffPost. “Not only can a good serving or two of Brussels serve as a natural detoxifying agent for the body, but these little guys are also a great source of vitamin C, B6, fiber and potassium.”
Yes, acorn squash is delicious. But Bogden pointed out that it’s also packed with calcium, potassium, beta carotene and vitamin A. “Consider chopping, roasting and seasoning acorn squash this fall instead of your usual side of potatoes,” she suggested.
We’re currently in peak apple-picking season, so head out to the orchard before they’re gone, because they’re great for your immune system. “Apples are an excellent source of fiber and vitamin C in addition to potassium, vitamin K, manganese and a variety of B vitamins,” Bogden said. “Consider using cooked and pureed apples this fall for a sweetener in your favorite dessert.”
Whether you’re cooking with it or adding it to a warm beverage or smoothie, turmeric is a great go-to, mostly because of its inflammation-fighting properties. According to research, when the body is inflamed, the immune system is lowered. “Turmeric is one of the most powerful spices on the planet,” Bogden said. “Turmeric can fight inflammation at the cellular level while adding a rich orange color to your favorite fall dishes.”
Just one cup of cooked butternut squash holds more than 450% of the amount of vitamin A you need for the day, according to Beckerman. “Not only is vitamin A a superstar antioxidant, but it can help to bolster the immune system as well. Plus, vitamin A is essential during pregnancy, helping to maintain cellular growth and fetal development,” she said.
While you probably shouldn’t rush out and buy a can of super-sugary cranberry sauce, finding healthier ways to eat cranberries this fall is a great idea. “The phytochemicals in cranberries have shown to have major antioxidant and antimicrobial effects in the body,” said registered dietitian Tracy Lockwood Beckerman. “In fact, an increasing body of evidence has shown that the phytochemicals in cranberries may have potential to promote healthy aging.”
Plus, she said, eating cranberries can increase immunity-promoting properties in the body. “This can help to fight against infection and bacteria,” she explained.
Besides being a good source of immune-boosting vitamin C, pears contain pectin, which is a fiber that nourishes healthy gut bacteria. “In research on the topic, this type of fiber has been linked to regulating the immune system, which shows promise in helping to fight off colds, flus and infections,” Beckerman said.
Now that you know exactly what you need to eat to give your immune system a boost, it’s time to get cooking. Enjoy!