I hate being sick. I know that seems like a silly statement. I mean, who really likes being sick? Sure, it’s a great excuse to lie on the couch and binge a really trashy TV show, but that’s hardly enough to compensate for the agony of dealing with the sneezing, coughing, body aches, stomach issues or whatever else might ail you. For me it also brings the added frustration of being sidelined from running and, as a result, getting off track with my training plan. These things happen, but what if there was something we could do to prevent coming down with a cold or stomach bug? Of course we know best practices when it comes to washing our hands and avoiding contact with those who are under the weather, but the type of preventative measures I’m thinking of actually come from our food. Although nothing can render us completely immune, our diet can boost our immune system to help us avoid a case of the sniffles or worse; the flu.
So what should we eat to bolster our immune system? Check out my list of the top 5 foods to eat to keep you healthy and therefore keep you running through the winter months:
- Yogurt – yogurt delivers a good dose of bacteria. That’s right, the very things that can make us sick can also protect us. Probiotics, also know as “good” bacteria, serve as a protective barrier in our gut to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. In fact, 80% of our immune system is based in our gut so regularly consuming sources of probiotic-rich foods like yogurt is one of the top ways to fend off illness.
- Blueberries – studies have shown that individuals who consume diets rich in flavonoids, phytonutrients that act like antioxidants in the body, are less likely to develop upper respiratory infections. Blueberries contain a particular type of flavonoid called an anthocyanin so sprinkle some of these on your yogurt for a one-two punch against colds.
- Red bell pepper – we hear time and again that vitamin C is key for immune health, but you might be surprised to learn that our usual go-to source of citrus fruits like oranges aren’t the top food source. Red bell peppers deliver more vitamin C than any other fruit or vegetable. Eat them raw to get the most bang for your buck as vitamin C is easily destroyed with heat.
- Garlic - forget warding off vampires, garlic can also protect against cold and infection. When crushed or sliced, garlic produces allicin, a sulfur-containing compound, which has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. Like the aforementioned bell peppers, garlic reaps the most benefits when consumed raw. Try adding some raw, crushed garlic to a homemade salad dressing.
- Oysters – more widely known for their libido-boosting properties than their immune boosting ones, these mollusks can be a boon for staying cold-free. Packed with zinc, studies have shown that even a mild zinc deficiency impairs immune function which is why oysters finish out my list of immune-boosting foods. Not an oyster fan? Incorporate other good food sources of zinc like poultry, beans and shellfish.
Keep in mind that eating one or all of these foods is only effective as part of an overall healthy and balanced diet. During training be sure you are consuming enough calories, drinking plenty of fluids and loading up on fruits and vegetables. Happy running!