5 Vitamins and Nutrients You Need for a Happy, Healthy Winter

The dark, short, and cold days of winter are upon us, and the threat of pesky colds and flus has spiked with the season’s arrival. But don’t resign yourself to those winter doldrums just yet — instead, focus on avoiding them altogether. Read on to learn which vitamins and nutrients your body needs to stay happy and healthy this season. Once you’re armed with that basic knowledge, you’re sure to have the liveliest winter ever!

Keep your levels of these five vitamins and nutrients high this season to stave off illness and keep your energy at its peak.

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1. Iron

Why you need it: Iron deficiency, or anemia, often results in a weakened immune system, which leads to increased frequency of infection, reports the National Health Service. Iron deficiency is also known to cause fatigue (due to lack of red blood cells), dizziness, and headaches. The lethargy reported among anemic individuals tends to result in decreased physical activity, further compounding their risk of illness.

How to get it: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that individuals maintain a balanced diet consisting of iron-rich foods such as beef, lentils, spinach, white beans, and even dark chocolate. Check its website for further information on what this mineral can do for your body and how to ensure you’re getting enough.

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2. Vitamin D

Why you need it: Vitamin D is critical to keeping your immune system in tip-top shape through flu and cold season. A study by the University of Colorado School of Medicine found that 77% of American adults are lacking in vitamin D, and that these Americans are 24% to 36% likelier to catch colds than those who have higher concentrations of the vitamin. As the study’s author, Adit Ginde, told Fitness Magazine, insufficient vitamin D levels will decrease the overall efficiency of your immune cells.

How to get it: Humans naturally absorb vitamin D through sunlight, which means that it’s all the more important we find alternate means of absorption during the winter months. Vitamin D-containing foods include fatty fish and egg yolks. Additionally, many foods like cereals, milk, and yogurts are fortified with the vitamin. You can find out more about vitamin D on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website.

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3. Complex carbohydrates 

Why you need them: As the days shorten in wintertime, individuals get less exposure to the sun. This not only decreases vitamin D levels but also has a direct effect on the level of serotonin in our brains. The result? Decreased levels of serotonin, which have been directly linked to depression and related health problems. The consumption of complex carbohydrates promotes serotonin production in the brain, reports Eating Well.

How to get them: Don’t reach for just any carbohydrates! Simple carbs, such as those you’ll find in doughnuts and white bread, will trigger a spike in insulin, causing fatigue, headaches, and irritability. Instead, opt for complex carbohydrates. “Whole grains and high-quality carbs such as sweet potatoes, yams, pumpkins, and squash help boost serotonin levels,” Gloria Tsang told Today’s Dietitian.

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4. Zinc

Why you need it: The human body requires zinc in trace amounts in order to sustain proper immune function. The substance is vital to cell growth and carbohydrate breakdown, among other processes. The National Institutes of Health note that the steady consumption of zinc over a five-month period will reduce your risk of coming down with a cold. Additionally, if you start to take zinc supplements within 24 hours after cold symptoms begin, you will likely reduce the length, duration, and intensity of the illness.

How to get it: Zinc is generally found in high-protein foods, such as beef, pork, and lamb, as well as nuts, whole grains, and legumes. Most multivitamins contain the nutrient. It can also be bought separately, often in the form of cold treatments — lozenges, nasal sprays, and more — according to the National Institutes of Health.

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5. Vitamin C

Why you need it: Vitamin C protects against everything from cardiovascular disease to skin wrinkling, writes WebMD. Because of the vitamin’s immunity-boosting properties, it’s crucial that your body receives an adequate amount of vitamin C during the winter. While vitamin C does indeed support various immune system functions, this vitamin alone cannot be considered a “cure” for the common cold.

However, many studies, including this one published in Medizinische Monatsschrift für Pharmazeuten (summarized by the National Center for Biotechnology Information), have found that vitamin C is an important contributing factor to a healthy immune system. Plus, it helps your body absorb sufficient iron levels, reports a study in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research.

How to get it: Vitamin C cannot be produced or stored by our bodies, so it is vital to get this nutrient through a balanced diet or dietary supplements, if nothing else. The vitamin can be found in many types of fruits, including kiwi, mango, pineapple, along with veggies such as spinach, Brussels sprouts, and winter squash. To learn more about vitamin C and its role in nutrition, visit the National Institutes of Health website.

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