Keep your immune system strong with these foods

Adriana Urbina is an In The Know cooking contributor. Follow her on Instagram and visit her website for more.

While there are many different ways to fight against the common cold and the flu, diet and regular exercise are two important factors in your control. 

The best way to get the nutrients your immune system needs is to eat a wide variety of healthy foods. That’s usually a better option than taking a supplement. Overloading on specific nutrients won’t give your immune system a super boost, and taking too much of some of them can do more harm than good

Focusing on a well-balanced diet filled with nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains is the key. Keep reading for a list of foods to include in your diet to strengthen your immune system:

Protein: This may be especially helpful in healing and recovery. You can find this in plant and animal products such as milk, eggs, beef, chicken, fish, nuts, beans and seeds. 

Vitamin A: This helps regulate the immune system and protect against infections. Look for it in sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, spinach, eggs or milk and cereal fortified with vitamin A. 

Vitamin C: Look for this in citrus fruit. It helps the immune system produce antibodies. 

Vitamin D: Find it in fatty fish and eggs, as well as drinks fortified with vitamin D. 

Vitamin E: This works as an antioxidant. Antioxidants decrease inflammation. Find vitamin E in fortified cereals, sunflower seeds, vegetable oils and peanut butter. 

Zinc: This may help wounds heal. You can find it in wheat germ, beans and tofu, but zinc is best from animal sources like beef and fish. 

Probiotics: Probiotics are sometimes called good bacteria. They can help your body digest food and even fight cells that cause disease. Find it in fermented foods such as yogurt and beverages like kimchi, kefir and kombucha. 

Have you ever tried kefir? Kefir is a cultured and fermented milk product that tastes like a drinkable yogurt. You can find it in the dairy section of most health food stores, but you can also easily make your own at home. You can order kefir grains from websites like Cultures For Heath or Body Ecology (more on how to make your own kefir below!).

Kefir grains come from what’s called a “mother culture.” When you make kefir, the mother culture is fed and grown. Eventually, you have to remove or give part of the culture away. This can be a fun and community-building activity — sharing grains and experiences. You can also order a milk kefir starter culture, which contains bacteria to culture your milk (but doesn’t come from a mother culture). 

Tips: 

  • You can use raw or pasteurized whole, reduced or nonfat milk. If you’re sensitive to dairy, you can also make kefir with nondairy milk alternatives, like coconut or almond. 
  • You’ll need a glass quart jar or thermos and a plastic or wooden spoon. Do not use metal. 
  • It’s best to strain your kefir through a cheesecloth or nut milk bag, as wire can cut the kefir grains. Remember, kefir grains are living cultures!
  • Use clean hands when handling your kefir grains to avoid contamination with unwanted bacteria. 
  • Wash the grains under room temperature water. Hot water can damage the grains.

Homemade Kefir 

Prep time: 5 minutes 
Fermenting time: 24 hours 
Servings: 4 

Credit: Adriana Urbina

Ingredients: 

  • Kefir grains (fresh or dehydrated) 
  • 4 cups milk (of your choice, per the above tips), brought to room temperature 

Instructions: 

1. Reconstitute dehydrated grains by placing them in 1/2 cup of milk for 24 hours before using. 
2. Place 2–3 tablespoons of kefir grains in a glass quart jar and add milk. 
3. Stir with a plastic or wooden spoon. Cover loosely and leave at room temperature for 18–24 hours. 
4. When kefir is ready, the grains will float on the surface of the milk. 
5. Remove the surface grains with a plastic spoon or filter. Refrigerate milk kefir and enjoy for 3-4 weeks. 
6. If you’re ready to make another batch, add milk and repeat the process. If you want to wait, put the kefir grains in a small amount of milk and leave at room temperature.

If you enjoyed this article, here are 11 healthy habits to incorporate into your routine!

Listen to the latest episode of our pop culture podcast, We Should Talk: