6 Ways to boost your immune system with food

Ahh-choo!

Seems to be a lot of that going around these days. Knee-deep in winter doldrums, many of you are fighting sniffles, fever, aches and pains. If you haven’t already succumbed to the latest wave of office flu, you’re worried that tickle in your throat could turn into something nasty.

How do you keep out of reach of colds and flu when these germs are knocking on your door?

Support your immune system.

Many factors affect immune health, from age (very young/very old) to elevated stress levels to inadequate sleep to chronic disease. Following a healthy, nutrient-dense diet bolsters immune function. Conversely, malnutrition impairs immune function. Many of us think that malnutrition is a devastating consequence of extreme poverty limited to third world countries. But the sad truth is that many North Americans -with more than adequate means to live well- suffer from malnutrition as a result of poor food choices. A typical diet of heavily-processed, chemically-enhanced, sugar-filled, trans fat-riddled substances is shockingly foreign to the body and serves to depress immune function and contribute to elevated levels of digestive struggle, obesity, chronic disease…and the list goes on.

Lowering stress levels, improving sleep quality and quantity, adopting some physical activity into daily living, and enriching one’s social life can all quite profoundly buttress immune function. But one of the paramount ways to fortify your immune system is really quite simple: include natural, whole, real, nutrient-dense foods in your daily diet.

Give your immune system the love and support it needs, starting with today’s trip to the local grocer. The following list of ‘food do’s’ will point you to the path of good health:

  1. Eat foods with natural probiotics. Natural yoghurt, kefir, unpasteurized sauerkraut, kimchi, raw apple cider vinegar (with ‘mother’), and kombucha are several examples of foods rich in probiotics. These fermented foods will help attain an optimal balance of gut flora – necessary for maintaining overall health.
  2. Eat omega-3-rich foods. The EPA and DHA in fish like salmon and sardines, and the ALA in flax seed, chia seed, and hemp hearts have terrific health benefits. Omega-3’s reduce inflammation, improve heart health, provide energy, boost brain health , and help with depression. New studies are finding that fish oils, in particular, have powerful immune-enhancing properties. They are incredible health boosters.
  3. Eat vitamin C-rich foods. Oranges, lemons, limes, kiwi, red pepper, sweet potato and broccoli are all rich in vitamin C. Pineapple also slips into this category, with the added benefit of bromelain, which is a natural enzyme that promotes efficient digestion and reduces inflammation.
  4. Eat green plant foods. Dark, leafy greens like romaine, spinach, kale, collards, and Swiss chard, in addition to other alkaline-forming greens like broccoli, celery and Brussels sprouts, should make their way to your plate each day. Green plant foods offer extraordinary health benefits, from raising the body’s alkalinity to helping with detoxification to assailing the body with a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. Eat some in raw form daily for the added benefit of digestive-enhancing live enzymes and also enjoy lightly steamed or sautéed.
  5. Eat garlic.  A powerful detoxifier, the anti-viral garlic purifies blood and acts as a wonderful digestive aid. It contains allicin, a sulfur compound, which helps to fight infection and bacteria. Eat it raw in salad dressings (with olive oil, lemon juice or raw apple cider vinegar, sea salt and pepper), or add it to your soups and sautéed greens.
  6. Eat fresh ginger. Simple and delicious, ginger is an anti-inflammatory, a potent detoxifier, and promotes gastric motility. Buy a big knob of the fresh stuff, cut off a chunk, peel, and throw into your morning smoothie. Also enjoy grated into warm almond milk with cinnamon, turmeric and raw honey.

And drink lots of water. Start your day with warm/room temperature water and fresh lemon juice to gently remove the toxins that your liver has been working hard at filtering during the night. Continue to drink water – with lemon – throughout the day to keep on removing toxic materials.

Finally, make sure you’re getting adequate protein. Quality protein sources – organic meats, eggs, nuts and seeds – are necessary to make disease-fighting antibodies.

Add the good foods above and try your very best to lessen your intake of processed foods. Too much sugar (from a diet heavy in refined carbohydrates, for example) and not enough nutrient-dense foods suppresses your immune system and sets your body up for sickness and disease.

Here is a wonderful, soothing soup to help you feel better (and ratchet up that immune system!):

Chicken Soup for Immunity

Ingredients

1-2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 large organic, free-range chicken breast, cubed (Note: you can instead add pre-cooked, shredded chicken to the soup at end of cooking time)

4 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 medium cooking onion

1 tsp grated fresh ginger

2 tsp curry powder

4 cups vegetable or chicken broth

2-4 cups water

1 large sweet potato, cubed (washed, skin on)

2 large carrots, cut into coins

2 cups broccoli florets, chopped

2 cups kale or spinach, chopped

Sea salt, pepper to taste

Directions

Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in heavy saucepan (Dutch oven is ideal). Saute chicken chunks until cooked through; remove to plate. Add onion to pot (and more olive oil, if needed) and sauté until translucent; add garlic, ginger, curry powder, salt and pepper, and sauté 30 seconds.  Add broth, water, sweet potato, carrot, and broccoli. Bring to a boil, reduce temperature and simmer for 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in cooked chicken and leafy greens. Simmer additional 5 minutes or so to warm through. Season with additional salt/pepper, if needed.

Cozy up with a blanket, a book, and a steaming bowl of chicken soup.

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