6 feet back, flu! This immune system is armed!
Do you ever find yourself wondering if there’s anything you can do that will better prepare yourself for viral encounters? To that, I say a resounding yes! Lifestyle factors like quality of sleep, physical activity, stress, environment, mindfulness practices, and what we choose to feed our body – all of these have powerful implications on our overall health. The femmetastic news is that through conscious lifestyle choices, we can learn to navigate toward a happier and healthier version of ourselves! Today’s post will focus on the tastiest of remedies.
The question is, what foods strengthen our immune system and are likely to make a virus wish it had never met us – kinda like a certain ex-boyfriend?
Here are some quickies (wink!) to ensure you’re packing jam into those well-chewed bites.
Eat the Rainbow
- Artichokes, beets, carrots, garlic, mushrooms, eggplant, zucchini, onions, potatoes, corn, pumpkin, yams, tomatoes, snap peas, bell peppers
Remember when your mama kept saying you should eat more fruits and vegetables? She was right, and an easy way to do this is by eating the rainbow. Well, not literally, but do make sure you`re choosing foods from a wide range of natural colors. The rich pigments are called flavonoids and the more vibrant they are, the more antioxidants the plant has. Remember this when next you’re at the grocery store trying to determine which fruit is better – earn an A+ and pick the brighter version over its duller counterpart.
Plant phytonutrient compounds play an important role in the smooth functioning of our physiological systems.
Vitamin C (aka ascorbic acid), for example, is an antioxidant widely known for easing flu-like symptoms (hear that, flu?). It’s also widely available in fruits and veggies, so does this mean you can stick with just strawberries and call it a day? Nope! There is a multitude of nutrient-goodness in each plant, and some nutrients aren’t available across the board. It’s not only vitamin C that does your body good, but a concoction of the non-pigment phytonutrients synergistically working together and that are unique to each plant. Brussels sprouts are a great source of vitamin C, but because they’re cruciferous they also possess sulforaphane (all hail!) and therefore greater antioxidant effects than just strawberries (see Cruciferous Vegetables below).
One more example!
Both mushrooms and spinach contain vitamin B9, or folate. Mushrooms also have myconutrients, which are exclusive to the mushroom kingdom and have anti-inflammatory effects, boost immune function, and significantly increase antibody production. Spinach, on the other hand, is high in caratenoids that the body can convert into vitamin A and use to enhance immune function and eye vision. This means that eating mushrooms will boast different health effects than eating spinach, even though both are good for you and both contain vitamin B.
As any good investor knows, don’t put all your food in one basket – diversity!
Herbs and Spices
- Turmeric, cinnamon, garlic, cumin, ginger, cardamom, chili powder, pepper, cilantro, sage, rosemary, parsley, mint, peppermint, coriander, thyme, basil, echinacea, elderberry, calendula, and lots more!
Herbs and spices rank highest for foods with the most antioxidants, followed by berries. They are highly concentrated, meaning you only need a small dose for big effects. So go ahead and flava’ up those dishes to reign in the benefits. I’ve personally been letting loose with cumin (a natural blood thinner and anti-inflammatory) and turmeric with a bit of pepper.
Interesting fact: the piperine in pepper increases the bioavailability of curcumin (turmeric’s main active ingredient) by up to 2,000%!
Okay, one more: salicylic acid is the main ingredient in Aspirin and is commonly used for easing pain, inflammation, fever, and as a blood thinner by people at risk of a heart attack. Just 1 teaspoon of ground cumin has about the same amount of salicylic acid as 1 baby aspirin, and that’s minus any side effects the common drug brings like damage to the digestive tract lining or hemorrhagic stroke! Bring on the curry!
- Cabbage, arugula, brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, boy choy, radish, mustard greens
Cruciferous vegetables provide many health benefits including preventing DNA damage, reducing or stopping the spread of metastatic cancers, preventing lymphoma, boosting the body’s detox abilities, and reducing nasal allergy inflammation. The secret ingredient to crucifer health is sulforaphane, which is akin to an antioxidant steroid! Before it can work its magic, however, sulforaphane requires a little help to activate its superpowers.
Either eat your crucifers raw or if you plan to cook them, practice your inner chemist and do this:
- chop up the crucifer and allow it to sit for ~40 min prior to cooking. There is a special enzyme called myrosinase that mixes with the sulforaphane precursor to create the actual sulforaphane. Because myrosinase enzymes are destroyed by heat, giving them time to rest and mingle with the precursor before cooking is not only polite, it also helps you to get the most out of your nutrients!
- No time to wait before cooking? You can simply add your own myrosinase enzymes by sprinkling on some powdered mustard seeds post-cooking! Tadda!
- Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, water kefir
Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria living in our gastrointestinal tract (GI). They, along with other gut bacteria, are collectively called the gut flora or microbiota. While not all the bacteria is good for us, probiotics are symbiotic – we help each other thrive. We literally have zillions of enteric bacteria and spoiler alert – contrary to popular belief that poop is just undigested food, a large bulk of it (hehe) is actually bacteria from your intestines! How cool is that? Maintaining a healthy gut flora improves digestion, discourages pathogens, helps the body make vitamin K, folic acid and B12, and improves both nutrient absorption and overall immune health.
While the items listed above are great sources of probiotics, you will still want to feed your tiny friends well with prebiotics. What do they like? Fructans, a particular type of fiber found in plants. Since you’re already following the advice from above and eating a wide range of healthy and whole foods, you should already be getting plenty of this fiber.
In summary, fill your plate with lots of colour and be sure to include some crucifers and herbs to spice up your life. As any good investor knows, don’t put all your proverbial eggs in one basket – diversify for health and longevity!
- West, RD, H. (2018). 6 Health Benefits of Vitamin A, Backed by Science. Healthline. Retrieved 13 April 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-a-benefits#section1.
- Greger, M. (nd). Mushrooms. (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2020, from https://nutritionfacts.org/topics/mushrooms/
- Shoba, G., Joy, D., Joseph, T., Majeed, M., Rajendran, R., & Srinivas, P. (1998). Influence of Piperine on the Pharmacokinetics of Curcumin in Animals and Human Volunteers. Planta Medica, 64(04), 353–356.
- Stone, G. & Greger, M. (2015). How Not to Die. New York: Flatiron Books.
- Groves, M. N. (2016). Body into Balance. New York: Storey Publishing, LLC.
- Hyman, M. & Bland, J. S. (2014). The Disease Delusion. New York: HarperCollins.