The holidays are coming, and the weather is getting frostier! To me, this is a recipe for getting cozy with family and sharing some holiday indulgence! However, this year, with immune health at the forefront of our minds, it may be time to make some tweaks to our holiday favourites or focus on filling our plates with more immune-supportive nutrition. Let me show you what I mean.

It matters what we eat — always. And tending to our immune health can be included. Overconsumption of sugary foods depletes our body of immune-supportive nutrients and weakens our defenses. So while indulging from time to time can be enjoyable, you want to make sure to surround indulgences with immune-boosting nutrients to counteract the effects.

This time of year, there are so many great, seasonal, nutrient-dense foods to enjoy! So consider putting the following foods onto your plate first.

Brussels Sprouts / Cruciferous Vegetables:

Cruciferous vegetables are part of the Brassica family. They contain sulfur compounds that encourage the body’s natural detoxification processes — keeping everything flowing and those things that we don’t want in our bodies, passing on through for elimination! This allows our systems to stay in top form and prepared with their defenses against infection.

Cruciferous vegetables also contain anti-microbial properties that guard against gastrointestinal infection specifically. So by filling your plate with Brussel Sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and more, you can protect your gut against infection and help maintain a healthy environment for potent immune supportive antibodies. Did you know 70% of our immunity is in our gut?

Brussel sprouts are delicious when baked and served with walnuts in an arugula salad. Cauliflower makes a great cheesy side dish. And cabbage can be made into easy homemade sauerkraut that doubles as a probiotic! Did you know that probiotic proliferation supports the production of antibodies? So gut health and immune health go hand-in-hand and can be delicious also!

Kefir / Probiotics:

Have you tried kefir? Kefir is a fermented beverage, usually made from dairy, but gaining popularity from non-dairy liquids also. It is part of the probiotic-rich family of foods and is essential in preventing the gut from being overtaken by “bad” bacteria (pathogenic microbes). Good gut guardians, like probiotics, support bowel regularity, mental wellbeing, and a healthy environment into which antibodies are released. Around 2 grams of antibodies are released into our intestines daily! So most of our immune health lives in our gut, and we can support our immunity through probiotic consumption.

Cranberries / Vitamin C:

We all know that vitamin C is a robust immune booster! Well, cranberries are loaded with these immune-boosting antioxidants. They help to neutralize free radicals and safeguard cells against damage.

As a substantial part of your urinary tract infection prevention toolkit, it is no surprise that these berries effectively prevent certain bacterias from taking over other systems and should be part of our diet as often as possible — due to their proanthocyanidins, a group of powerful polyphenols. Cranberries contain a high amount of these polyphenols, and they protect against bacterial pathogens.

If you’re a fan of cranberry sauce, opt for a low-sugar option. Or something with a refined sugar alternative for sweetener, like maple syrup. We want to take the benefits of the cranberries without overpowering them with the harmful elements of refined sugars.

Sage / Herbs:

Sage is a member of the mint family and has been used traditionally as a herbal remedy for sore throats, coughs, and colds, as well as digestive and circulation issues. Systemically it can assist the nervous system, heart, respiratory tract, metabolic organs, and endocrine glands. Sage is hugely powerful and beneficial when used therapeutically to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. In addition, it helps protect against free radical damage and bacterial and viral infections.

Sage is a fragrant and potent herb. It can be taken in through steeped tea or as a seasoning in many dishes. It pairs well with poultry and butternut squash, elevating their flavours with its woody and earthy qualities.

Have you tried butternut squash, sage, and goat cheese lasagna? Yum! Give the recipe a search and reap the rewards of fragrant sage this holiday season.

Garlic / Allicin:

Garlic is an old standby and a vital component of most dishes. Have you ever heard of eating a whole garlic clove because you felt a sore throat coming on? This is because of its immune-boosting compound called allicin. Allicin is another sulfur-containing compound. These compounds contribute to the reduction of overall inflammation, as well as warding off unwanted bacterias.

Garlic helps us maintain the homeostasis of the immune system. This is due to its ability to stimulate specific cells, including lymphocytes, macrophages, and natural killer cells, vital parts of our immune defenses. In addition, it helps modulate cytokine secretion, an essential part of the inflammatory process that attends to pathogens. Thus, garlic is not only a solid immune modulator but a delicious part of most dishes!

Share garlic with your whole family, and no one will complain about your breath! You can all maintain strong immune systems!

Apples / Quercetin:

Apples contain an important flavonoid called quercetin. It is a plant pigment that is a powerful antioxidant found in onions, berries, and citrus fruits. Quercetin can inhibit histamine release and helps regulate our allergic response. In addition, it is an anti-inflammatory compound. It stimulates the immune system, sparking antiviral activity and decreasing pro-inflammatory cytokines favouring the anti-inflammatory ones.

Keep your immune system in top shape by eating an apple a day! Or try a low-sugar apple crumble. Mmm – oats, cinnamon and seasonal apples!

Dark Chocolate / Polyphenols:

The darker the chocolate, the greater the health benefits! Cocoa is rich in polyphenols, and the darker the chocolate, the lower the sugar content. Dark chocolate can help boost our immune-supportive white blood cells and activate pathways involved in cellular immune response. Polyphenols are a potent antioxidant influencing, in particular, our innate inflammatory responses. It can also influence the intestinal adaptive immune response. This keeps our immune system’s two-layered approach agile and ready to respond to invaders.

There are so many great foods to eat! So this holiday season, focus less on the treats and more on treating your palate to these delicious, immune-supportive nutrients! Your immune system will thank you!