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When the seasons change, what you eat should change, too. Depending on where you live, different climates will yield different vegetables, and eating in-season is an important part of getting the most nutrients for your buck, so to speak. The closer you are to where your produce was grown, the more nutrient-dense it will be when it finally makes it to your table.
With the onset of cold weather, immune function can suffer, particularly from things like exposure to the cold and lowered levels of vitamin D due to lack of sunlight. As winter approaches, it’s especially important to eat autumnal vegetables that boost immune function by delivering vitamins and nutrients that help your system gear up for cold days and time indoors.
Is the immune system weaker in winter?
Some studies have shown that the simple act of being out in the cold can influence the immune system’s ability to fight off infection. This, along with the fact that viruses tend to thrive when the air becomes dry and cold, creates a recipe for heightened risk of infection during the cold-weather months.
Other research on the subject has found that it isn’t only immune cells that are negatively affected during the cold-weather months. The immune defences in the nose, for example, were found to weaken during bouts of exposure to cold in a study done on mice.
What vegetables help boost your immune system?
Vegetables are perhaps the most important source of nutrients, fibre and vitamins. Every food group offers its own set of health benefits, but vegetables reign supreme when it comes to keeping your body in check. Some of the best vegetables to eat when you want to help boost your immune function include citrus fruits, bell peppers, garlic, ginger and spinach.
But what if these vegetables aren’t harvested in the fall where you live? Eating seasonally doesn’t mean skipping out on nutrient-rich foods that can keep colds at bay throughout the winter. There are many fall vegetables that can give you the boost you need.
Pumpkins are synonymous with autumn, especially during certain holidays that utilise the vegetable for foods and decoration. But did you know that it is also a huge immune booster?
Pumpkin is full of beta-carotene, the pigment that gives it its beautiful orange colour. When ingested, beta-carotene is transformed by the body into vitamin A. This micronutrient plays a vital role in the immune system because of its direct effect on the cellular response. It helps to regulate the immune response, reduce inflammation that could lower the immune system, and provide therapeutic assistance when fighting off infection.
Whether you like butternut or acorn, the type of squash doesn’t matter much as long as you’re eating enough. Butternut squash in particular is full of carotenoids, a known immune booster, and also contains high amounts of vitamin C. Vitamin C helps to boost immune function by encouraging the production of the white blood cells that protect against infection. Acorn squash is also nutrient-dense and offers up for example vitamins C and B6.
Carrots are another food that gets the bright hue from beta-carotene, which again turns into vitamin A upon ingestion to help the immune system greatly during the cold weather months. Carrots also contain high levels of other vitamins and nutrients that play a direct role in how the body recognises pathogens and what type of immune response is needed to fight them off.
Another beta-carotene superstar is the sweet potato. The activating power of beta-carotene has the ability to increase T-cell production, which heightens immune response. Sweet potatoes also contain vitamin C for an added boost, which in turn leads to better absorption of iron. Since iron is a vital component of non-specific immunity, ensuring that your body is absorbing all you need is crucial to staying healthy this winter.
Kale is one of those fall foods that can be grown and harvested mostly year round; however, the taste is much sweeter in the fall. Kale is a great immune booster because of high levels of vitamins, like C and K.
Fall vegetable recipes
Knowing what to cook for the fall to keep your immune system up to par is a great way to stay healthy as the weather cools down. For those who like to keep things on the easier side when it comes to preparing foods, roasting can be a great way to incorporate fall vegetables into your diet.
Chop up squash, carrots and sweet potatoes, toss in olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast at 220 degrees Celsius for 30–45 minutes depending on the size. When the vegetables can be easily pierced with a fork, they are good to go. For a sweet touch, adding a tablespoon or two of maple syrup while tossing will give them a beautifully sweet glazed flavour.
Kale can be sauteed with lemon and garlic for a no-effort side dish. All you need to do is pull the leaves from the stems and chop them up to a size of your liking. Begin by heating olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes on medium heat until fragrant, then toss in kale and lemon juice and cover, cook, and stir occasionally for about five minutes.
The great thing about autumnal vegetables is that they can be incorporated into meals effortlessly, and that level of ease is just one of the many plus sides of adding immune-boosters to your diet to keep illness at bay this winter.