What You Can Do to Boost Your Immune System 

With cold winter weather just around the corner, concern about colds and flus is not far behind. There is a lot we can do on a daily basis to keep our body's defenses up, but boosting your immune system is especially important in the upcoming season to prevent and treat the dreaded winter flu.

Of course there are the things we should all be doing year-round to keep healthy: regular exercise, getting enough sleep at night, decreasing the daily stress, eating well and drinking enough water. But come winter, this routine may not be enough. To get your immune system in top form, we need to pay closer attention to our diet.

The food choices you make on a daily basis play an important role in determining if your immune system weakens, making you vulnerable to the viruses going around, or if your immune system gains strength, protecting you from those germs and helping you to recover quickly in the event that you do pick up a virus.

The immune system is intelligent on its own, recognizing and then eliminating germs or viruses that come into the body. But the immune system's responses are slowed down by chronic stress, harmful chemicals, radiation, the overuse of antibiotics and by not taking care of yourself.

Mushrooms
You're probably familiar with the white button mushroom and even the hearty portobello, but you may not know about Asian mushrooms. Commonly featured in Japanese and Thai cooking, Asian mushrooms are known for their immune-enhancing properties. Maitake, shiitake, oyster and enoki mushrooms are available in your local grocery store and are worth experimenting with in your kitchen with some soba noodles and vegetables. Or you can mix them into a warm soup, perfect for when you get in from the cold outdoors. The great thing is that whether you eat them dry or fresh, these mushrooms keep their bacterial and viral-resisting properties.

Vitamins and Minerals 
If the cold bug hasn't bitten you yet, it's best to get your vitamins and minerals in their most active form - through food. A varied diet that includes a colorful mix of fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grains helps to strengthen your immune system. A good diet like this is naturally high in important vitamins such as A, C and E. In the winter months, I suggest increasing your Vitamin C intake through foods as well: broccoli, tomatoes, berries, citrus fruits and peppers.

Garlic and onions
Garlic in the winter is a great idea - it enhances the flavor of any meal, and it warms you up. And its antibacterial properties are great this time of year. If someone in the house is sick, consider chopping up a clove or two and adding it to your dinner. Plus, eating the fresh garlic is often more effective than taking garlic supplements.

Drink more Water
Unlike the previous items, water on its own will not enhance your immune system. There is no active ingredient that will fight infection or kill bacteria. However, just being dehydrated can predispose you to the very colds and flus you are trying to avoid. Water is so very important to our bodies - it hydrates our cells and flushes out their waste as well. But in the winter when the air gets drier, our bodies get drier too. Drinking six to eight glasses of water a day can help your body strengthen its first line of defense: it keeps the mucous membranes that line your eyes, nose and mouth moist. When germs and viruses travel around, moist membranes will trap them before they are able to get further and start a cold. So keep a water bottle with you when at work or when running errands and you'll be a step closer to a cold-free winter. Have a wonderful holiday, enjoy your favorite foods and drinks, but don't forget these immune-boosting foods when you're done celebrating.