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Boost Your Immune System at Every Meal

Learn why you might want to hold off on starting a new diet 'til after cold and flu season. Plus, seven sneaky ways to bulk up on immunity-boosting vitamin C.

Your immune system’s not a muscle, but you should treat it like one. The same things you focus on when it comes to bulking up, like diet, exercise, and sleep, also play a big role in fending off colds and the flu. But unlike the radical diet you might adopt to help speed up the six-pack process, the trick to using food to keep your immune system strong is balance, says Heidi Skolnik, a sports nutritionist and author of Nutrient Timing for Peak Performance.

While restrictive, evolution-inspired eating plans, like intermittent fasting, may help you bulk up or trim down, if your goal is to not get sick, you’ll benefit from eating regular meals throughout the day and including plenty of nutrients in those meals, says Skolnik, who works with New York-based sports teams such as the Giants, Knicks, and Mets. Why: immune-boosting vitamins, like C and B6, don’t hang around in the body for very long.

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“The vitamin C you have in the morning isn’t there for your body to use at night,” says Skolnik. “It’s water-soluble, so you need it throughout the day.”

So, this means chew on vitamin C tablets all day, right? Actually, there’s no real proof that swallowing supplements all winter will keep you cold-free, so working C-rich foods in at every meal is a better bet. But you don’t need to gulp glasses of orange juice around the clock. Instead, swap OJ into easy recipes at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. Here’s how to do it.

Sneaky Ways to Get More C

>Black Beans: Simmer black beans in orange juice for a zesty punch of flavor. Vitamin C may help increase the absorption of iron from the beans, says Skolnik.

>Vegetables: Sauté vegetables with a splash of orange juice instead of butter to cut down on saturated fat.

>Rice: Use orange juice instead of water when preparing rice or other grains.

>Dip: Skip ranch or sour cream varieties and mix orange juice with plain yogurt instead.

>Salad Dresing: For a no-fuss salad dressing, fill a mason jar one-third with orange juice, then add balsamic vinegar until the jar is half-full. Add a tablespoon of Dijon mustard and a teaspoon of honey and sprinkle salt and pepper to taste.

>Garnish: Try blending avocado, sea salt, orange juice and olive oil for a tasty topping for broiled or grilled fish.

>Low-Fat Float: Mix orange juice with seltzer, and then add a scoop of low-fat frozen yogurt for a twist on an old-fashioned dessert.

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