Spring is only a few months away, but we're still in the middle of flu season.
Now's the time to be proactive about your overall health and do whatever you can to reduce your risk of seasonal illness.
Besides reaching for medication this winter, consider a natural remedy. With a proper diet, you'll fuel a healthy body that's less likely to develop the flu this winter, according to Karen Ansel, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
"You can't underestimate the importance of good nutrition when it comes to your immune system," she told Health magazine. "Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants - these are what keeps your body strong, and without them you're not giving your body the edge it needs to ward off infection."
But there are certain foods that strengthen your defense system better than others. Here are five items we recommend buying on your next shopping trip due to their ability to prevent and fight the flu:
1. Oily fish
Because of its abundance of omega-3 fatty acids, fish has the ability to reduce inflammation in your body, according to Health magazine. Chronic inflammation hurts the immune system, so it can increase your risk of developing a cold or the flu. That's why eating more salmon, tuna, mackerel and other fatty fish this winter is crucial.
Probiotic foods, such as yogurt, are loaded with essential bacteria that promote digestive health and helps prevent viruses. A study by Sichuan University in China also found that probiotics can reduce the development of upper respiratory tract infections. If you ever feel a cold coming on, consider eating a bowl of yogurt with walnuts, which are loaded with beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.
3. Red bell peppers
Vitamin C is known best for its ability to boost the immune system, especially when you're already sick. But that doesn't mean you have to drink dozens of glasses of orange juice to reap the benefits. There are plenty of fruits - and vegetables - that are rich in vitamin C, even more than oranges.
Red bell peppers, for example, are loaded with the flu-fighting vitamin, so consuming them can ward off illness and reduce your chance of experiencing the harsh symptoms. Eating them fresh will provide the most nutritional benefit, so consider a plate of peppers for as a bedtime snack.
4. Sweet potatoes
This colorful vegetable gets its well-known shade of orange from beta carotene, which converts to vitamin A when it enters the body. This nutrient increases your T-cell count and strengthens your immune system.
Spinach is a high-fiber food that helps regulate the digestive system. But it can also benefit your immunity, according to dietitian Nema McGlynn.
"We don't digest fiber but there are certain components in fiber that help feed the good components of our gut," she explained to The Huffington Post Canada. "Some of these have been linked to helping the immune system."
Consuming a large spinach salad will benefit your body in more ways than one. Make it a priority to eat one more often.
Making healthier choices will fuel your body to work its best. Keep that in mind when you're dining at home, at a friend's place, or a restaurant.