There’s so much to look forward to when the cold weather creeps in — cuddling by the fire with a good new book, hosting holiday parties for your BFFs, and keeping cozy in chic sweaters. The only thing we’re not looking forward to? Cold and flu season, when sick days and stuffed-up noses seem inevitable. But with some forward thinking and healthy planning, those dreary days don’t have to happen. We talked with nutrition communications expert Elizabeth Shaw to get the scoop on keeping sickness at bay.

A woman eats a bowl of hot soup

1. Trust your gut (health). Did you know that over 70 percent of your immune system is found in your gut? “One of the best ways to support a healthy immune system is to focus on supporting your gut health with a balanced nutritional intake,” Shaw explains. “Both our gut health and immune system are so intertwined with a healthy diet. By amping up your intakes of antioxidants, you’ll be able to boost your body’s natural ability to fend off colds and protect your immune system.”

2. Antioxidants are awesome. Speaking of antioxidants, they’re one of the key elements in keeping your body healthy and strong. Shaw works with POM Wonderful to help people make healthy food choices: “Polyphenols specifically, a type of antioxidant found in pomegranates, combat unstable molecules (free radicals) that can damage your cells and DNA over time. Everyday environmental exposures to pollutants such as stress, smoking, and other factors can cause the accumulation of more free radicals in your body.” So, basically, every time you go outside, you’re exposing yourself to free radicals which can weaken your immune system (thus making you more susceptible to colds). Shaw suggests “increasing your intake of dietary antioxidants to help your body fend off those free radicals.”

3. Load up on multivitamins, minestrone soup, and green tea. Green tea “contains powerful antioxidants” and also a small amount of caffeine, making it the perfect office antidote to the 3pm slump. In addition to pomegranates, Shaw also recommends “a general everyday multivitamin as a great addition to a balanced, healthy diet, since very few people meet their daily recommended servings of fruits and veggies” (two more important factors to staying healthy). While we’re talking about fruits and veggies, Shaw loves making a big pot of minestrone soup to eat for lunch: “Not only do the vegetables provide phytonutrients to your body, but the beans are a great source of food for your gut.” She says that many comfort foods are actually rich in nutrients, which means they’re doubly satisfying. We’re all about comfort foods that pack a healthy punch!

4. Swear by simple swaps. “I think it’s unrealistic to say steer clear of sweets when you’re heading into the holiday season,” Shaw admits (phew!). Instead, she recommends focusing on “simple swaps” versus trying to eliminate an entire food group — especially if it’s something you enjoy. She says you might try “swapping the second cookie for a cup of tea or small glass of pomegranate juice to help boost your antioxidants and balance out your holiday season.”

5. Sleep and exercise (just not at the same time). We don’t mean to sound like your mother, but two of the most beneficial methods for keeping your body healthy are sleep and exercise. Shaw explains that exercise “helps control your cortisol (stress hormone), which in turn can negatively affect your immune system if you let it get out of control. As hard as it may be, try to aim for a consistent routine with bedtime and activity through the cold season.”

How do you fight cold and flu season naturally? Tweet us @BritandCo to share your no-sickness secrets!

(Photo via Getty)