With the seasons changing and weather getting cooler, colds and flus are now going around. Staying healthy while those around you sniffle and sneeze requires good hygiene practices, adequate sleep and rest, and paying attention to what you eat. While avoiding processed foods and excess sugar consumption certainly does help decrease the burden on your immune system, there are certain superfoods that you can eat regularly that pack the biggest nutritional punch and are loaded with immune-boosting nutrients. Although the list is not exhaustive, these are my favorite foods to help protect against illness this season:
Garlic, a member of the onion and leek family, contains the active ingredient allicin, which is incredibly beneficial to your immune system because it packs a triple whammy punch: antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal. This potent herb and culinary delight has even been shown by researchers to stop common multi-drug resistant bacteria like Staph Aureus, E. Coli, and Psedomonas Aeruginosa. For optimal benefits, garlic should be fresh and crushed to release allicin. Try cooking with it throughout the week or consume raw (with a little honey, also antibacterial!) if you start to feel a cold coming on.
2. Goji Berries
Considered both a fruit and an herb indigenous to western China and the Himalayas, the goji berry is loaded with health benefits and has an impressive nutrient profile. Gram for gram, goji berries have more Vitamin C than oranges, an important nutrient for the immune system. Goji berries are also known to have one of the highest ORAC values (a measure of its antioxidant potential), making it a great free radical scavenger. These berries also contain phytochemicals and compounds that are antibacterial and antifungal, and research has shown that they increase the number of natural killer cells and mucosal immune cells IgA and IgG in humans. Enjoy these berries on their own as a snack or sprinkle them in your yogurt.
This pungent herb has many properties making it a superfood: it’s an excellent anti-nausea remedy (even for pregnant women), it has potent anti-inflammatory properties which help to reduce arthritic pain, the active ingredients called gingerols have been shown in preclinical studies to kill some of the most difficult to treat cancers (lung, ovarian), and ginger has been shown to have antibacterial and antifungal effects. Try this powerful root sliced in a cup of hot lemon water or check out my Go-Green Daily Detox Smoothie.
If you have ever cut into a beet you know that it bleeds – giving us an indication of what organ system it promotes in the human body: the blood and circulatory system (from a wisdom called the ‘doctrine of signatures’). Researchers have shown that 500ml of beetroot juice can significantly open up blood vessels, allowing blood pressure to decrease and circulation to improve, also allowing immune cells to get to the site of action faster. In addition, beet pectin and extracts have been shown to have antibacterial and antiviral properties, specifically with Inlufenza A virus. Try beets raw and shredded in a salad, cooked and pickled, or try the Go-Beet-It smoothie from The Salad Bar Maastricht.
If you are serious about boosting immunity, then adding fermented foods into your diet is an absolute must. Kefir is a fermented dairy product similar to yogurt, rich in enzymes and friendly gut bacteria that balance your “inner ecosystem” and strengthen immunity. Friendly bacteria, or probiotics, line the digestive tract and help to act as the first line of defense against unwanted pathogens. And since 70% of the immune system is found in the gut, it makes sense to have a balanced microbiome, Besides kefir, other fantastic fermented foods are natto, kimhci, miso, tempeh, sauerkraut and plain yogurt. Try kefir as a healthy breakfast option with some oatmeal, fresh berries and a sprinkle of chia seeds for gut-enhancing immunity.
Mushrooms have been used for thousands of years in traditional Asian medicine and researchers today are just beginning to reveal their potent disease-fighting capabilities. They are rich in protein, Vitamin C, fiber, and powerful compounds called beta-glucans which can help activate white blood cells and enhancing their anti-infections activity. In particular, medicinal mushrooms like reishi, shiitake, and maitake have been most researched and have been shown to be beneficial in people undergoing chemotherapy, a multitude of cancers, and for general immune system boosting. Try them in my Immune-Enhancing Mushroom Soup.
While pumpkin seeds, aka Pepitas, are most known for ability to improve prostate health in men, this delicious seed also packs a nutritional punch with significant doses of important minerals, like magnesium, potassium, iron and immune-boosting zinc. Just one ounce of pumpkin seeds delivers 20% of your daily zinc requirements, which is crucial for proper development of natural killer cells, communication between white blood cells and DNA replication. It’s best to eat these seeds raw, so have them as a snack with an apple, or choose them as a topping in your next salad from The Salad Bar Maastricht.
- Dr. Crystal