It’s the start of a bustling new season and, for many of us, fall is filled with the smell of crisp air, colorful foliage, apple picking, pumpkin everything and other wonderful fall activities. For some people though, the fall season is often associated with health concerns like seasonal allergies, colds and the flu. In addition to busy fall schedules and the impending holiday season, this can make people feel stressed.
Stress can prompt us to make nutrition choices that are not the healthiest, or to be tempted by high-calorie comfort foods – which often contain too much fat, salt, and sugar. These may fill our bellies, but we may be lacking many important nutrients that support overall health, including that of the immune system, which is one of the first lines of defense against viral infections.
To keep a healthy, balanced diet that supports the immune system, it’s important to ensure we are incorporating essential nutrients into our daily diets. Familiarizing yourself with the nutrients the body needs and making a healthy grocery shopping list can help you prioritize nutrition for yourself and your family.
Nutrients We Need More Of
When you’re at the grocery store, preparing meals, or if you’re considering supplementation, make sure you are consuming the following nutrients to help you build defenses in the fall months and help support overall health year-round.
Best known for helping with regularity, high-fiber foods are filling and relatively low in calories. Certain fibers can also encourage the growth of “good” bacteria in your digestive tract, which support immunity because they serve as an initial line of defense by crowding out potentially harmful bacteria that might enter the digestive tract.
While it’s not a mineral we typically think about, magnesium contributes to hundreds of bodily functions. Magnesium supports the health of your immune and nervous systems, supports muscle function, and assists your cells in producing energy.
Most people associate calcium with healthy bones, but your bones need Vitamin D too, since it helps your body absorb calcium that you consume. Vitamin D is also needed for proper muscle function and helps the immune system fight off bacteria and viruses.
This mineral supports the function of nerves and muscles and helps regulate blood pressure. Potassium also supports chemical reactions in the body that generate energy from food.
One of iron’s key functions is to support the transport of oxygen to cells and tissues. If you do not have enough iron, your body cannot make hemoglobin, and you may get anemia. And, when iron stores in the body are low, immune function may be affected.
Where Can You Get Those Nutrients?
The great news is that, in addition to fresh foods, most of these nutrients can be found in foods that are easy to buy in bulk and maintain a long shelf life until your next essential grocery run. These are some foods to stock up on that contain the nutrients mentioned above and can help you create healthy meals for days:
· Dry goods like oatmeal, lentils, and whole grain pastas and cereals can be great sources of fiber, iron, and magnesium. Some cereals are also fortified with Vitamin D. The most important feature is to ensure that you’re buying "whole grain" to get the full benefit, so read labels carefully.
· Fruits and vegetables are great sources of fiber and potassium and a single carrot provides a days’ worth of beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A. Pumpkins and sweet potatoes are also an excellent source of beta-carotene which helps protect the health of cells, including cells in the immune system. Additionally, vitamin A supports the health of the skin, including the specialized immune cells that reside there.
· Vegetables are packed with minerals and vitamins. Keep in mind those that lasts the longest - onions, potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and carrots. Frozen fruits and veggies pack the same nutritional punch as their fresh counterparts, so stock up on them when you find them.
· Fermented foods are also great options that provide beneficial probiotics (the “good bacteria”) to the digestive system. Some fermented foods, like tempeh or Greek yogurt, are also excellent sources of plant-based protein (and yogurt is a great source of calcium) and both foods have relatively long shelf lives.
· Canned items can be a life saver and have a long shelf life so you don’t need to worry about expiration dates just yet. Make sure to choose low sodium options and stock up on tomatoes (sauce, diced or paste), beans, broth, tuna, salmon, sardines, chicken, and nuts. You can also buy canned veggies, such as corn, pumpkin, and chili peppers – but look for low sodium varieties.
Following general good-health guidelines including a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise, is your first line of defense and the best way towards naturally keeping your immune system strong and healthy. Educating yourself on the nutrients your body needs - and incorporating them in the foods you prepare for you and your family - can help you steer clear of fall illnesses and enable you to spend time enjoying the many delightful activities the season has to offer.