In my last blog I discussed the importance of hygiene for keeping yourself healthy during the cold and flu season. But what we eat (or don’t eat) can also affect the ability of our immune systems to fight germs. Don’t wait until you’re sick to follow an immune-supportive diet. Eat healthfully on a regular basis to provide your body with the necessary ammunition to withstand unwanted bacteria and viruses as well as more serious conditions, such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Foods That Support Immune Function
If you do nothing else to boost your immune system - EAT MORE VEGETABLES!! Vegetables have the highest nutrient-density of all foods. In other words, they have the most nutrients for the fewest calories. So what’s so great about vegetables? They are also loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other phytonutrients that help reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, prevent cancer, heart disease and even dementia. Top vegetable choices include: spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes/yams, red bell peppers, garlic and onions.
Sweet potatoes and tomatoes are two of my favorites. Not just for Thanksgiving, sweet potatoes (and yams) boost the immune system with betacarotene. Baked or mashed, … enjoy sweet potatoes year-round but hold the marshmellows - they’re naturally sweet enough. For a “dessert potato”, bake a sweet potato, drizzle it with a little extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with pumpkin pie spices. Mmmmm….nature’s ultimate comfort food! Loaded with lycopene, a phytonutrient believed to protect against cancer and heart disease, tomatoes are another versatile nutrition powerhouse. Lycopene’s absorption is enhanced when tomatoes are cooked and mixed with a healthy little fat (i.e. in the form of olive oil or avocado).
Fruit is also loaded with immune-boosting phytonutrients, but most people have an easier time getting sufficient fruit in their diets. Plus, it’s generally higher in calories than vegetables and therefore less nutrient-dense. Outstanding fruit choices for your immune system include blueberries, strawberries, cherries, pomegranites, cherries, papaya and purple grapes. When choosing fruit or vegetables - select a variety of colors - each contains a different group of immune-boosting phytonutrients. So if your plate has all of the colors of the rainbow - you’ll obtain the most complete spectrum of nutrients available.
Another key immune-fortifying food group is cultured dairy products (yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese). An excellent source of easily-digestible calcium, plain yogurt is full of friendly, intestinal-friendly bacteria or “ probiotics ”, which enhance digestion and the immune system.
Seafood is an excellent source of zinc, a key mineral for the immune system. Shellfish are particularly zinc-rich. Cold Water fish – Salmon, Cod, Halibut- are full of omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce the inflammation in the body that may lead to chronic diseases. Vegetarian sources of omega-3s include walnuts, hazelnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds and flax oil.
Foods That Suppress Immunity:
What you eat can also negatively impact your immune system. Immune-suppressing foods include: processed foods, sugar in all forms, simple carbohydrates and foods high in fat. Eat as many whole foods as possible and drink plenty of water and green, black or white teas, which are loaded with antioxidants.
Here’s an “Immune-Boosting Smoothie” Recipe I love anytime:
1 cup plain, non-fat yogurt with live, active cultures and no added sugars