Precautions like washing your hands regularly, not touching your face, and — this year, wearing a mask — are important to ward off illness. And the foods you put on your plate can play an important role. Following a healthy, well-balanced diet that prioritizes whole foods over processed ones is one of the best ways to shore up your body’s immune system.
In particular, certain snacks “can provide much-needed antioxidants for your body this season,” says Robin Foroutan, RDN, who specializes in integrative and functional nutrition in New York City. “The one thing all antioxidants have in common is they quench free radicals, which damage cell components like DNA and proteins, creating an environment where disease can take hold,” she explains.
That’s why each of the snacks we’re recommending focuses on foods that are rich in antioxidants, improve gut health or reduce stress — all of which support immunity. Fouroutan shares her snacking musts for a stronger immune system:
Not only are apples in season, but they also contain quercetin, a phytonutrient or plant compound that has antioxidant activity. “These compounds support the immune system by helping the body balance inflammation and keeping your gut healthy,” says Foroutan, and research shows gut health plays a role in immune function. Pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc and magnesium, minerals that act “as the cofactors for so many of the chemical reactions in our body that we require to stay healthy,” she adds. You can buy pumpkin seed butter online (it’s similar in consistency to nut butter) or make your own by whirling roasted pumpkin seeds in a blender until smooth.
A cup (150g) of red bell pepper slices contains twice the vitamin C of an orange. Vitamin C supports the immune system by strengthening the skin’s barrier (your first defense against pathogens) and eliminating free radicals that damage cells (and allow viruses a foothold). Research also shows vitamin C helps decrease the occurrence, severity and duration of colds. For a well-rounded and satiating snack, pair veggies with hummus, which is high in zinc.
Rather than dip into the chip bag, prep some butternut squash fries to reheat and enjoy through the week. Simply cut the squash into slices (discarding any seeds), brush with oil and bake them at 425°F (218°C) for 40 minutes. “Butternut squash contains carotenoids, a phytonutrient that our body converts to the antioxidant vitamin A,” says Foroutan. You can boost the antioxidant value of these fries even more — while jazzing up the flavor — by tossing them in avocado oil and antioxidant-rich herbs and spices such as ground coriander or cumin.
A cup of tea won’t provide any calories if you’re hungry, but it’s hydrating and can help prevent mindless snacking if you’re not truly hungry. Both black and green teas contain L-theanine, an amino acid that has been shown to help decrease stress, a major drag on immunity. Green tea is also a source of the anti-inflammatory antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), says Foroutan. If you need a bite to go with it, she recommends dark chocolate, which is rich in antioxidants.
A crunchy and slightly spicy veggie, radishes are full of antioxidants and another good source of vitamin C. Guacamole is made with avocados, which contain vitamin E, another free-radical quenching nutrient.
Just one Brazil nut contains more than the daily requirement for selenium. “Selenium is a really important antioxidant for detoxification and thyroid health,” says Foroutan. Her pro hack: Toss one into your smoothie before blending along with antioxidant-rich fruits like blueberries and vitamin C-rich citrus.
Plain Greek yogurt is rich in probiotics, which keep your gut healthy and can support your immune system. To make it a touch sweeter, drizzle some Manuka honey on top.
This type of honey is “made from bees in New Zealand that feed on the Manuka bush. It’s especially high in antioxidants and great for gut health and the immune system,” says Foroutan.
Discover hundreds of healthy immune-supporting recipes via “Recipe Discovery” in the MyFitnessPal app.