How Can You Ward Off Winter Illnesses?

With winter in full swing, the colder weather inevitably applies persistent pressure on everyone’s immune systems. This often results in more runny noses, unexpected fevers, and a sluggish immune response. However, this is also the time of year when a well-stocked pantry can double as your medicine chest. If you are trying to keep a winter cold at bay, the cure may be in the kitchen. Whether you are craving chicken soup, miso soup, or a hearty pot of stew, immune-boosting foods can be your medicine!

Garlic: A Clove a Day Keeps the People Away

Garlic (Allium sativum) is a delicious addition to most meals, but this pungent spice also has a potent reputation throughout history as an indispensable kitchen medicine. Garlic is a powerhouse of sulfur-based compounds known for their potential to prevent and treat a variety of illnesses. When raw garlic is crushed, chopped, chewed, or otherwise broken down, the enzyme alliinase is naturally activated. Alliinase converts alliin to a well-known chemical and a therapeutically active compound known as allicin. Allicin provides broad-spectrum immune support, bolstering our resistance to infections and reducing inflammation through its powerful antioxidant activities. If you are trying to avoid garlic breath, consuming a high-quality garlic supplement may be an excellent tool to help ward off vampires, as well as a lurking illness.

An Unexpected Vitamin Powerhouse

Mushrooms, including button mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus) and shitake (Lentinula edodes) mushrooms, offer vegetarians a delicious source of protein and vitamin D as well as selenium, and the critical B vitamins, riboflavin and niacin. Mushrooms contain abundant amounts of beta-glucans, a distinctive type of polysaccharide, which naturally boosts immune function. Mushroom-derived nutrients can regulate immune system function and have a savory flavor that can improve any dish.

Go for Natural, Go for Vitamin C

One of the most well-known immune-supporting substances, vitamin C (from natural sources) supplies substantial antioxidant support to the body. This critical vitamin helps to manage a healthy inflammatory response and nourish stress-depleted immune systems. Only natural, food-derived sources of vitamin C contain other micronutrients, dietary fiber, and phytochemicals that amplify the bioavailability of vitamin C, enhancing health benefits for the body. Consuming vitamin C can boost blood antioxidant levels, help the body fight free radicals, and support cellular health and wellness.

But buyers beware! Always select a natural-source, food-derived vitamin C, that delivers the full spectrum of what vitamin C has to offer. Choose products that include fruits such as amla (Phyllanthus emblica), a highly revered ‘fruit as medicine’ used in Ayurveda, which has 20 times more vitamin C than oranges! Avoid vitamin C products that are “dead” or purely synthetic ascorbic acid powder. Read product labels carefully and invest wisely in your health.

Broccoli Takes the Crown

Broccoli reigns supreme as America’s favorite vegetable and there is a good reason these broccoli trees are tops. These “little greenies” are supercharged with antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E, as well as beneficial fiber. Additionally, broccoli has important phytochemicals that aid detoxification while delivering antioxidant protection. Truly, broccoli is one of the healthiest vegetables that you can put on your plate. But be careful of how you eat it! Cooking broccoli for 8-10 minutes not only enhances its antioxidant activity but can also neutralize naturally-occurring glucosinolates, sulfur-containing compounds that can interfere with thyroid metabolism and the utilization of iodine (unless the broccoli is cooked).

The Bottom Line

Winter is here and your immune system needs backup! Don’t let plummeting temperatures get your immune system down. Use nature’s bounty of seasonal superfoods and your kitchen as your wellness apothecary. Or, if your schedule is jam-packed, and excess stress is depleting your reserves, reach for high-quality food-derived dietary supplements to create a veil of immunity to ward off winter illnesses and keep your immune system in tip-top shape through the winter season. In the words of Mark Twain, “The secret to getting ahead, is getting started.”


Jenny Perez is an herbal educator, researcher, and writer who has been immersed in the field of nutrition and botanical medicine for more than 20 years. Jenny has created curriculum, content, and educational materials for Quantum Nutrition Labs, Premier Research Labs, the American Botanical Council, and Bastyr University’s Botanical Medicine Department where she was Adjunct Faculty, Herb Garden Manager, and Director of the Holistic Landscape Design certificate program.