It’s officially the middle of the winter, which means that cold & flu season is knocking at our doorsteps! As your weekend schedules fill with auditions for summer intensives, this is not the time to get sick! Don’t you agree?

When it comes to immune-boosting nutrients, we commonly think about those powerful antioxidants, such as vitamin C. Vitamin C is a common vitamin found in many fresh fruits and veggies. Before you reach for the supplements, however, limited research associates vitamin C with reduced cold symptoms only after the symptoms appear. While it’s unknown if taking vitamin C supplements will actually prevent a cold, it doesn’t hurt to boost your intake of vitamin C-containing foods, especially if you’re starting to sniffle more frequently. Foods high in vitamin C include most fresh fruits and veggies, especially citrus fruits, berries, and tomatoes. Aside from including these into your meals and snacks, squeeze some lemon into your water and pare your choices with foods high in zinc, which may help to shorten the length of colds. Zinc is found naturally in foods such as shellfish, meat, chicken, beef, and fortified breakfast cereals.

In addition to these vitamins and minerals, we can also arm our immune system with a strong population of probiotics. Probiotics are healthy organisms (think of them as friendly bacteria) that live in our digestive tract. Emergent research associates our gut bacteria with countless benefits, including their role in boosting immunity. Food sources of probiotics include yogurt, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut. Here’s the catch: you’ll want to supply probiotics with their own food source in order to promote their growth. Prebiotics are fibers from all plant-based foods that supply energy for probiotics. Some specific foods containing prebiotics include apples, barley, flaxseeds, onions, garlic, oats, bananas, grains (like bulgur and wheat berries), leeks, and leafy greens. 

Before reaching for the supplements, consider the role that a varied diet plays in building immunity. Eating a variety of foods, especially plant-based foods, provides us with powerful nutrients to help battle the cold. This is the best way to arm your immunity, especially during these next few (shivery!) months.