Foods for a Healthy Immune System
Whether you are fending off the common cold, or something nastier, including certain foods into your diet during the ‘flu season’ can boost your immunity. These same foods can also help you recover faster if you start feeling under the weather or can’t seem to kick a lingering runny or stuffy nose.
Consuming antioxidant-rich foods is the single best way to improve the function of your immune system. Antioxidants work to decrease inflammation and to prevent damage to our cell structures caused by free radicals. Unlike medications that simply mask symptoms, antioxidants can actually help prevent illness and will shorten the duration of a cold. Luckily, eating antioxidant-rich foods with every meal is actually quite simple! Load up on berries, apples, onions, beans, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, and even enjoy some dark chocolate, green tea or coffee – all of which are great sources of antioxidants.
To restore a healthy balance of bacteria, incorporate fermented and pro-biotic foods to ward off harmful bacteria. Plain cultured yogurt, kefir, miso (check in tomorrow for a great miso recipe), sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh and olives will all introduce healthy bacteria back into your system.
Mushrooms are rich in nutrients and contain powerful compounds, known as beta-glucans, that activate and modulate the immune system. Varieties like shitakes, Maitake, and chantrelle mushrooms are especially beneficially and rich in B vitamins.
Bitter tasting vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, turnips and kale have anti-inflammatory phytonutrients and have high doses of vitamins to aid our systems during flu season. Aim for 4 or 5 servings of crucifers each week.
As if you needed a reason to eat more garlic. However, the main flu-fighting property of garlic, allicin, is heat sensitive. So to gain the antibacterial and antiviral benefits of allicin, add a clove or two of finely diced raw garlic to your meal. Vibrant spices like turmeric, chili, sumac, ginger, curry powder, and paprika are chock full of antioxidants and healing properties to calm inflammation and detoxify our bodies.
Vitamin C is a well-known immune system booster. However, the classic cold remedy of a large glass of orange juice has enough sugar to actually increase your body’s inflammatory response to infections. Too much sugar in your diet will suppress your immune system. Compared to small 6oz glass of orange juice (which has ~16 grams of sugar), one cup of chopped raw kale has the equivalent amount of Vitamin C and less than a gram of sugar. For an added boost, dress your kale in citrusy vinaigrette or add lemon and lime zest to a smoothie or salad.
Our body needs water to flush out toxins and to support our lymphatic system in circulating nutrients to all of the body’s tissues. Drink plenty of water and enjoy some green tea or a bowl of soup each day to ensure proper hydration.
Over-exercising will only suppress your immune system, but scheduling time each day for a moderate amount of exercise will increase your immunity to viruses and other illnesses. An hour-long yoga class, a 30-minute jog or brisk walk, or 45 minutes at the gym will improve your physical and immune system health.
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 3 tablespoons olive or grape seed oil
- 1 large golden sweet potato, peeled and cut into small bite-sized cubes
- 4 medium carrots, halved and chopped
- 4 stalks celery, chopped
- 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons turmeric
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons ground sumac
- ½ teaspoon chili flakes (or more to taste)
- ¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 2 cups yellow split peas
- 1 quart vegetable broth
- Once all vegetables are prepped, heat oil in a large soup pot over low-medium heat.
- Sauté onions at medium until translucent and then add sweet potato, carrots and celery and sauté for an additional 3 minutes without browning the vegetables.
- Add remaining ingredients and just enough broth to completely submerge the peas and vegetables.
- Bring to a gentle simmer and cook covered until split peas start to dissolve slightly and vegetables are tender, about 35-45 minutes.