5 Fall and Winter Foods That Can Strengthen Your Immune System

Find the nutrients you need in foods that taste their very best right now.

Fall and winter are always a hard time for immune systems. We start spending less time outside, so access to vitamin D is reduced. Typically, general activity levels decrease, too. As the days shorten and the time changes, sleep can be affected, which impacts the body's ability to stay resilient and fight off illness. And we start spending much more time indoors, which means we are in closer proximity to others — and whatever they have been exposed to, like cold and flu. This year, for obvious reasons, keeping your immune system as strong as possible is more important than ever before.

There are a lot of foods designated as "superfoods" for their healthful properties, but sometimes they can be hard to source, especially in certain seasons, and quite pricey. Luckily, some of the superfoods that have the greatest positive impact on immune systems are some everyday foods that are in season during the fall and winter.

Now is the time to start incorporating them into your diet — not just because they are delicious, but also because they can be a good part of helping keep your immune system strong. Here are our top five immunity-boosting foods to be eating now:

1. Sweet Potatoes

sweet potato fennel hash

Packed with vitamin A, sweet potatoes are probably one of the best foods you can eat for your health. They're also also a hero of the fall and winter holiday season because they last for weeks and can be prepared in a variety of ways so you're never bored with them.

Lucky for us, the health benefits stick no matter how you cook them, so bake, roast, steam, and braise away. But the easiest way to incorporate these amazing tubers into your routine is to slow roast them whole and keep in the fridge. Eat them for breakfast topped with Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of granola or toasted nuts. Use them as a container for chicken salad at lunch; cut into wedges and dunk in hummus for a snack; or reheat with miso maple butter at dinnertime.

2. Spinach

spinach and pomegranate salad in a glass bowl

The iron, zinc, and chlorophyll in this everyday leafy green is a great thing to bring into your diet in fall and winter. As the summer delicate lettuces fall away, spinach is the leaf to reach for to help boost your immunity. Thankfully, it is readily available all season long.

For the strongest impact on your system, cook spinach to intensify its wellness properties. Steam at scale and scramble into eggs or omelets in the morning; serve cold with a Japanese-inspired sesame dressing at lunch; make some little frittata muffins for snacking; or sauté with lemon and garlic at dinner.

3. Citrus

Citrus salad with pistachios
Citrus salad with pistachios | Photo by Meredith.

While it is always sad when the lovely berries and melons and stone fruits of summer begin to disappear, citrus season hits just when we need that hit of vitamin C most. The whole fruit is healthier than just the juice, so think about halved bruléed grapefruit at breakfast; clementines, tangelos, and sumos for snacking or as a part of your lunch; supreme lemon or lime segments in your salad for pops of brightness.

Citrus slices with beets or fennel are a great dinner starter, and you can simmer whole oranges gently in sugar syrup until the peel is candied around the still-raw fruit and serve chilled for an elegant dessert.

4. Mushrooms

Kelly's Slow Cooker Beef, Mushroom, and Barley Soup
Kelly's Slow Cooker Beef, Mushroom, and Barley Soup. Cherie Lynn Ball-Harding

Mushrooms pack a wallop of immunity benefits, including B vitamins, potassium, and Vitamin D. These umami bombs are super fall and winter friendly and easy to source and incorporate into your everyday diet.

Bake eggs in portobello tops for a hearty breakfast. Snack on mushroom caps stuffed with chive cream cheese. Slice them into your lunch salads or roast them for layering into sandwiches. And mushroom soup is one of the warmest ways to start any fall or winter dinner.

5. Apples

air fryer apples and pecans on a serving dish and on a blue plate

Yes, that old "apple a day" adage exists for a reason. From fiber to antioxidants to phytochemicals, apples are a healthful addition to your diet in the cool months. Look for organic options to avoid consuming pesticides.

While you can get apples year-round, fall and winter are the prime season, so look for the heirloom varietals that aren't always available, like Mutsu, Liberty, Gingergold, or others. Eat with the skin for the most benefits. Baked apples are a wonderful morning meal; slice them into salads or on sandwiches at lunch; and snack on wedges dunked in almond butter. At dinner, think about sautéing apples on their own or with other vegetables like onion and cabbage, or have them for dessert.

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