Nothing in the human body functions in isolation, and nowhere is this more true than with your immune system. It’s a complex intermeshing of specialized cell wall barriers and defensive responses that comes initially “from the factory”. Your immune system also learns adaptively from every bug, virus, parasite, food particle, or fungus you encounter over your lifetime.
Do you need to know exactly how it works? No. Do you need to know how to keep it healthy? Absolutely.
Far and away the #1 key to keeping your immune SWAT team on alert is keeping your gut wall robust, and your gut’s microflora healthy and populous. There are 3 parts to this:
1. Promoting gut flora diversity with a diet rich in prebiotic- and probiotic-rich foods, including supplementation as needed
2. Eating a wide palette of foods rich in Vitamin-C (and other nutrients) that are antioxidant; these clean up the damaging free radicals that promote inflammation and early aging
3. Minimizing or eliminating foods that promote inflammation and infection: heavily processed foods, sugar, soda, as well as foods that have been produced using highly toxic chemicals (glyphosphate, for example)
Not that complicated, right? But not always easy. It can be really helpful to build in some foods that are Immune SuperStars. Here are some of them!
Yellow Bell Peppers
This may surprise you: oranges are not all that high in vitamin C. One orange provides 78% DV (Daily Value) of vitamin C. But a ½ cup of yellow bell peppers can contain up to 152% DV of vitamin C. (Green bell peppers are equivalent to an orange.)
Why vitamin C? For one thing, it promotes the development and function of your lymphocytes, an immune system warrior cell. You want these in abundance!
Other Vitamin C SuperStars
Acerola cherries, Rosehips (lovely in tea); Green chili peppers, Black currants
If you happen to live Down Under, you’re in luck. The Kakadu plum is a real winner, with 100 times more Vitamin C than an orange.
Winter is guava season, which is super helpful for the immune challenges we typically face from November through April. Guava clocks in at 140% DV of vitamin C, plus a wealth of lycopene.
Why lycopene? It’s a ninja antioxidant, and supports many of the enzyme activities required in mobilizing an immune response.
Other Lycopene SuperStars
Tomatoes in any form, Watermelon, Grapefruit (red or pink)
High in essential nutrients like vitamins A, C and E, broccoli is also rich in sulfurophane.
Most potent in raw or lightly cooked vegetables, sulfurophane supports your health in multiple ways. It protects brain function, can reduce blood sugar, and may help maintain healthy blood pressure.
Over-cooking broccoli not only brings out the sulfur-y smell many of us dislike, it reduces sulfurophane’s beneficial effects.
Other Sulfurophane SuperStars
Kale, Cabbage, Brussel sprouts, Bok choy, Watercress, Cauliflower
The only food that contains curcumin, turmeric supports healthy inflammatory pathways. Inflammation is one of the body’s primary tools in combating infection and promoting healing. Unresolved inflammation, however, is implicated in many disease processes. Consuming pro healthy-inflammation foods is a fantastic way to boost the immune system.
Wait, there’s more! Turmeric protects brain and cellular health as well as being a powerful antioxidant and metal-chelator. It’s also delicious, so you may want to include some Indian dishes in your repertoire.
Green tea contains L-theanine, which promotes relaxation and the formation of healthy T-cells. Black tea also contains L-theanine (sometimes in higher doses). However, black tea is often fermented, reducing the L-theanine properties.
Green tea is packed with flavonoids and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Flavonoids are one of big the reasons that plants are good for you as flavonoids boost the immune system.
Other Flavonoid SuperStars
Cranberries, Apples, Blueberries, Broccoli, Strawberries — there is really no end to this list!
Almonds are rich in fat-soluble vitamin E. Vitamin E boosts the immune system as it’s a free radical scavenging antioxidant. Almonds are easy to find and store in any season, making them a great winter pantry staple.
Consume almonds with their skin on as a lot of their health-promoting properties are contained in the skin. In one study from the Institute of Food Research in Norwich and the Policlinico Universitario in Messina, Italy, researchers found that almonds improved the white blood cells’ ability to detect viruses.
Other Vitamin E SuperStars
Wheat germ oil, Sunflower seeds, Hazelnuts, Peanuts
Lest we forget the basics, here are some of what I call the Foundational Foods.
Onions and Garlic
It’s long been recognized that onions and garlic are anti-cancer rock stars. In Vidalia, GA, home of the Vidalia onion, mortality from stomach cancer is 50% less than the national average. Why? Onions support the production of glutathione, one of the most powerful anti-oxidants you have in your armory.
Anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and antibiotic, onions and garlic (part of the same family) have more health benefits than you can imagine. Bone and cardiovascular health, weight and blood sugar management, on and on: you want these warriors in your diet everyday!
In Ayurvedic medicine, ginger is known as the universal remedy. Both calming and gently stimulating for the digestive system, ginger has been used to combat morning sickness. If you tend to have cold hands and feet, add ginger tea to your day: it supports healthy circulation*. Because it’s antimicrobial and antiviral, it boosts your immune response at the same time.
*Ginger, like many herbal and food-based remedies, has a blood-thinning effect.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are some more specialized foods that are worth finding ways
to integrate into your diet.
Think about the way mushrooms grow: they flourish on organic matter that’s breaking down. That means that mushrooms have a magical ability to absorb and eliminate toxins! Hence their role in fighting cancer.
The three main types with demonstrated health benefits are Maitake, Shiitake and Reishi. Look for recipes that use these, as well our familiar friend the white button mushroom. Super-dense in nutrients, there is no downside to using mushrooms in your cooking.
Nutrient-rich, joint-protective, anti- inflammatory & anti-arthritis, gut-healing, brain-friendly, delicious and versatile: it’s hard not to love this (unless you’re vegan)!
Here’s the basic recipe:
Put 3 – 4 pounds of bones, 1 ounce of organic apple cider vinegar into 1 gallon of filtered water. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 10 – 24 hours. Season to taste. Let cool, strain through cheesecloth and store in small containers.
As cold and flu season approaches, be sure to stock your fridge with those foods that will support your innate immune SWAT team.