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7 Plant-Based Foods That Help Your Immune System

Stay healthy and run strong while the cold weather tests your immune system.

This article first appeared on Women’s Running.

’Tis the season for a bounty of fall harvest and winter greens. Yet, with temperatures dropping and increased dampness in the air, coupled with packed schedules and limited time for rest, sickness susceptibility tends to run high this time of year.

Regardless of how hard you’re training through the fall and winter months, staying on top of your eating game and keeping nourished is a must. Here are seven plant-based foods loaded with vitamins and immune-boosting properties that will help you stay well and train strong this season.

Sweet Spuds
Swap your white potato with a sweet spud. Sweet potatoes make for hearty pre-race fuel or a post-run pick-me-up and can be baked and topped, just like your traditional loaded baked potato. If you’d rather go the creamier route, mash them up! Simply cut, boil and mash, then mix in your favorite herbs (like fresh rosemary) and drizzle with coconut oil. For an even sweeter finish, spring for honey or cinnamon. Regardless of how you choose to cook your spud, be sure to eat the skin to reap the benefit of extra fiber and potassium.

Winter Squash
Winter squash brings an abundance of nutrients to your table. And thanks to multiple varieties of said squash, you can get creative and enjoy it a number of ways. Turn spaghetti squash into spaghetti. Slice, bake, and stuff acorn squash with creamy hummus or your favorite veggies. Or whip up a warm soup. Don’t forget pumpkin is a squash too. Blend pumpkin puree in your morning smoothie for an extra burst of antioxidants.

This complete plant-based protein will keep you running strong without spiking your blood sugar. Quinoa’s pleasingly neutral taste and texture make it able to be readily enjoyed in any dish that you’d normally cook with rice or pasta—from classic spaghetti to pad thai. Still, the best part about this naturally gluten-free, grain-like seed is that it fills you up without weighing you down or leaving you feeling sleepy.

Rich in protein, fiber and iron, while virtually calorie-free, lentils make for an inexpensive, warm, hearty meal in a bowl. Use a slow cooker or crock pot to allow your lentils to sit and simmer with tomatoes, onion, carrots, or other choice veggies, and this soothing stew will be waiting for you after your long run or workday.

Look to beets to get your blood pumping, while lowering your blood pressure. Both the roots and the greens come packed with health-boosting nutrients. For a simple and easy beet salad, wash, peel and chop your raw beets. Then combine with greens, onions, nuts, seeds and your favorite dressing.

Summer isn’t the only time of year for bright green salad. In fact, it’s during the winter months certain greens are at their finest. It’s time to invite winter greens like chard, collards, or kale to your kitchen. These greens are packed with essentials like magnesium and vitamin K, not to mention antioxidants. Simply rinse, chop and toss with fruit and veggies for a rich fiber-licious salad.

Amp up your intake of vitamins B and C with the help of citrus! What makes a better addition to your smoothies than sweet citrus like clementines and satsumas? If it’s too cold for a smoothie, these oranges can sweeten up your morning bowl of oats, or your afternoon salad. For a slightly tart citrus pick, kumquats (with edible peels) can be incorporated into already sweet chocolate desserts or cocktails.

Spice Things Up

Before you get cooking, here’s a handful of healthy extras to incorporate even more flavor and nutrients into your daily meals.

Nutritional Yeast: For a nutty finish, sprinkle nutritional yeast over your finished dish for supplemental servings of vitamins and minerals.

Apple Cider Vinegar: Take this healthy elixir as a shot, or use apple cider vinegar as a base for a dressing. A spoonful or sip each day will surely help keep the doctor away.

Turmeric: Use this bright yellow spice near the end of your cooking to infuse your food with anti-inflammatory properties and flavor. Keep in mind, a little goes a long way. And because this is a natural dye, it’s best to play it safe and wear an apron.

Garlic: In everything you make this season, chop up a fresh clove of garlic to sprinkle in. Garlic acts as a detoxifying agent and can help you ward off the common cold or flu.

Coconut Oil: No matter what you’re choosing to cook, soak up the added benefits of this wonder oil. Beyond the kitchen, apply coconut oil generously to your skin during the harsh winter months to stay smooth and hydrated.

Sarah Kathleen McCartan is a freelance writer, Oiselle Volée runner, and vegan foodie based in St. Augustine, FL. Sarah holds tightly to the mantra “you are what you eat” and shares her passion for a plant-based diet and dedication to an active lifestyle through Vegan on the Run. Sarah is an advocate for real food, made simple. Connect with Sarah on Twitter or Instagram @sarahkmccartan.