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Getting proper nutrition is important all year-round, but especially during cold and flu season when our immune systems are working overtime. That’s why it’s essential to eat a balanced diet rich in healthy and organic whole foods as much as possible, and to supplement with NHPs when necessary.

Our immune system consists of organs, tissues and millions of cells throughout the body that, together, create a protective network. These cells rely on a healthy diet for proper functioning and can become underprepared if we do not provide the basic building blocks they need to do their job. Lack of proper nutrition has been linked to decreased immunity and increased risk of illness.

Our immune system not only depends on macronutrients such as protein, carbohydrates and fat to build antibodies, we also need micronutrients like folic acid, vitamins A, C, E, B6, and minerals including copper, zinc, selenium and iron. This diverse collection of nutrients helps the body to identify invaders, break them down and dispose them.

The survey showed that 46 per cent of Canadians still turn to vitamin C supplementation to help get through the cold and flu season. And that’s a smart move, since vitamin C has been shown to reduce the length and severity of a cold. It’s also been shown to improve your overall mood after an illness. While most people choose oranges for their vitamin C fix, there are other seasonal choices that are a great source of vitamin C, such as kale, broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts.

However, with our hectic, grab-and-go lifestyles, we know it can be hard to get all the nutrients we need from our diet alone, which is why taking a supplement may be a good option. Unfortunately, despite being universally recommended as a supplement, only 37 per cent of survey respondents reported taking vitamin D to keep them healthy during the cold and flu season.

Here are a few other foods and NHPs you may want to consider to improve your immune health:

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Nuts: Include nuts in your diet, which provide you with a perfect blend of immune-boosting nutrients, including protein, vitamin E, zinc and selenium. Cashews and pecans in particular are some of the higher nut-based zinc sources, while Brazil nuts are high in selenium.

Kimchi: This fermented cabbage dish from Korea is rich in vitamins C and E, carotenoids, and antioxidant enzymes. It’s also a healthy whole-food source of probiotics, the good gut bacteria that keep your immune system in check.

Garlic: This member of the allium family has been shown to reduce cold symptoms and improve immune cell activity. Over a third of Canadians (37 per cent) reported eating garlic to stay happy and healthy during cold and flu season.

Probiotic supplements: Lactobacillus probiotics in particular have been shown to improve the immune systems of both our gut and our entire body.

Mushrooms: Reishi mushroom extracts contain bioactive compounds called “lectins” that increase the activity of our white blood cells.

Visit your local CHFA Member health food store to find nutritious, local and organic foods, and NHPs to bolster your immune health.

Emily Arsenault