food_cIn winter, cold and flu season, it's time to think about prevention. While frequent hand washing is often the first line of defense against germs, you can greatly enhance your body's ability to fight off infections by choosing the right foods. Many foods come naturally equipped with immune boosting and antiviral qualities and the good news is these foods can be easily incorporated into your daily menus. Here are some suggestions:

1. Choose foods rich in Vitamin C: Since we cannot store vitamin C in our bodies, we need to consume it regularly. We should be eating 5-6 servings daily of fruits and vegetables which are rich in this vital vitamin. Such foods include bell peppers (especially red), cabbage, broccoli, leafy greens, kiwi fruit, citrus fruits, and berries. Consider making a smoothie for breakfast using banana, orange juice and organic frozen blueberries. Or just add thawed blueberries to your granola or yogurt. Peel and slice a kiwi or an orange to have with your toast. Other ideas include sautéing spinach with garlic in olive oil for dinner or make festive fajitas with chicken and brightly colored peppers. These are all easy ways to increase your consumption of vitamin C, a natural immune system enhancer.

2. Eat more garlic and onions: Garlic is a highly esteemed vegetable to many cultures around the world and for good reason. In fact, its use as a vegetable and as a medicine dates back to 5000 BC. Garlic certainly adds wonderful flavor to food, but it also has a positive effect on the immune system. It is rich in phytonutrients which are known for their antibiotic and antiviral properties. Garlic's medicinal benefit is most potent when used raw so consider adding it to salad dressings for this use. However, garlic still offers benefits when cooked so use it generously in stir frys, soups, and casseroles. Top crusty bread with roasted garlic instead of butter. Similarly, onions enjoy a long history with their cultivation dating back to 3200 BC. Clearly onions are the most universal seasoning used today. The flavonoids in onions actually work with vitamin C to help kill harmful bacteria. It's hard to find a savory recipe that doesn't use onions but consider making a soothing and delicious pot of onion soup or include onions with slow roasted winter vegetables.

food23. Eat brightly colored fruits and vegetables: While nutritionists tout the health benefits of beta carotene, its conversion into vitamin A in the body has immune boosting qualities as well. Fortunately foods rich in the nutrients are readily available in the fall and winter months including winter squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin. Additional sources include cooked spinach, apricots, and mangoes. Instead of a russet potato, substitute a delicious sweet potato. Just that simple change increases antioxidants significantly and also provides more vitamin C and trace minerals. Use that can of pumpkin puree in your pantry to make pumpkin bread. Make a pot of carrot ginger soup. Fish are also good sources of vitamin A including halibut, wild caught salmon, and cod. Evidence suggests the nutrients in these foods can prevent or lessen the severity of certain infections.

4. Drink tea: And in particular, drink green tea. Studies have shown that drinking green tea can enhance the immune system because it has a high concentration of polyphenols, known for their antioxidant properties. Green tea is also less processed than black tea. And finally, enjoying a hot cup of tea forces you to slow down and relax and this is always a benefit to your immune system.

While each of us usually get a cold or two each year, it's important to know that our diets and habits do impact our health. Get plenty of sleep, stay away from highly processed foods and include some of the healthy foods included above and you are on your way to a healthy flu season and healthy year ahead.