“Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food” – Hippocrates
A healthy immune system is equipped to deal with common illnesses, such as colds and influenza. Your body can heal, repair, regenerate and restore health if you nourish it with healthy foods, moderate exercise, deep sleep and consistent stress management. Shawn Nisbet lists the immune-boosting foods that are key to optimum health..
Vitamin C-Rich Foods
Vitamin C increases the number of white blood cells your body produces (your immune fighting cells) which help fight off any foreign invader. It also increases your production of antibodies that prevent the entry of viruses such as any flu.
Excellent food sources of vitamin C include: broccoli, bell peppers, kale, cauliflower, strawberries, lemons, mustard, sweet potatoes, turnip greens, brussels sprouts, papaya, chard, cabbage, spinach, kiwi fruit, snow peas, cantaloupe, oranges, grapefruit, limes, tomatoes, berries, asparagus, celery, pineapples, lettuce, watermelon, fennel, peppermint and parsley.
In particular, blueberries, acai berries and raspberries are known as super foods. Their dark colour signals they are high in antioxidants called anthocyanins, which help to ward off oxidative stress (the rusting of the body) which in turn helps the body fight aging and disease.
A ¼ cup serving of almonds, walnuts and pecans carries nearly 50% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin E which helps boost the immune system. They also contain riboflavin and niacin – B vitamins that may help you to bounce back from the effects of stress.
Because it is the part of a wheat seed that feeds a baby wheat plant, wheat germ is full of nutrients – zinc, antioxidants and B vitamins, among other vital vitamins and minerals. Wheat germ also offers a good mix of fibre, protein and some good fat. Substitute wheat germ for part of the regular flour called for in baked goods and other recipes.
This flavourful member of the onion family is a powerful immune booster that stimulates the multiplication of infection-fighting white cells, boosts natural killer cell activity, and increases the efficiency of antibody production. Garlic is also heart-friendly: it keeps platelets from sticking together and clogging tiny blood vessels. Be sure to rest garlic for about 15 minutes after chopping.
Green teas are loaded with disease-fighting polyphenols and flavonoids. These antioxidants seek out cell-damaging free radicals and destroys them. Decaf will allow you to sleep better and remember that your body heals best when in a deep sleep.
Plain Organic Yogurt
Look for labels listing ‘live and active cultures’, commonly referred to as acidophillus. These healthy bacteria live in the intestines and help the immune system. The best species of probiotics are lactobacillus and bifidobacteria. If you don’t enjoy yogurt, you can purchase liquid, powder or capsule forms at your local health food store.
Ginger has been used to aid digestion and treat stomach upset, diarrhea and nausea for more than 2,000 years. It is also believed to help treat the common cold and flu-like symptoms. In a cup of warm water add lemon, freshly ground ginger and raw honey. Do not give honey to children under 1 year.
Turmeric has often been used to care for the common cold and cough. This is because the curcumin present in turmeric is a powerhouse of antioxidants and increases the strength of the immune system, thereby making it less prone to developing such conditions.
Omega 3 Fats
Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines and anchovies, plus ground flax seeds, salba and walnuts all contain beneficial omega-3 oils. These oils increase our bodies’ phagocytes – a form of white blood cells that literally eat up bacteria. It’s like having your body’s own little army to fight invading germs and decrease inflammation.
Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup
Some researchers say the broth has anti-inflammatory properties that soothe a sore throat and help stop the movement of neutrophilis (white blood cells that encourage the flow of mucus that accumulates in the lungs and nose). The steam can also unclog congestion in the chest and nose. But make sure it is homemade and not from a tin.
Don’t Forget the Mushroom Soup (Button Mushrooms)
Mushrooms contain selenium and antioxidants. Low levels of selenium have been linked to increased risk of developing more severe flu. The B vitamins riboflavin and niacin, found in these mushrooms, also play a role in a healthy immune system. Animal studies have shown mushrooms to have antiviral, antibacterial and anti-tumour effects.
Drink between six and eight cups of water a day – depending on your height, weight, diet and exercise schedule. Water helps to keep you hydrated and flush out infections.
Natural Remedies for a Sore Throat: Oregano Oil or Salt
Gargle twice a day with warm salt water or put two drops of oregano oil into a small amount of warm water. Simple gargling prevents proliferation. Don’t underestimate this simple, inexpensive and powerful preventative method.
4 Elements that Weaken the Immune System
1. Sugar. Try to limit sugar consumption to 8 to 10 teaspoons per day (aside from naturally occurring fructose sugar in fruit and lactose sugar in dairy products). Eating or drinking 100 grams (8 tablespoons or 25 teaspoons) of sugar, the equivalent to about two cans of soda, can reduce the ability of white blood cells to kill germs by 40%. How much sugar is in your morning cereal and glass of juice? The immune-suppressing effect of sugar starts less than 30 minutes after ingestion and may last for five hours. In contrast, eating a complex carbohydrate, such as real oatmeal, has no negative effect on the immune system.
2. Alcohol. Excessive alcohol intake can harm the body’s immune system. If you drink too much, this could cause nutritional deficiency by depriving your body of valuable immune-boosting nutrients. Excess alcohol can also contain sugar, which in excess suppresses the ability of your white blood cells to fight infection. One drink (the equivalent of 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1 ounce of hard liquor) does not appear to bother the immune system, but more can.
3. Food Allergies or Sensitivities. Allergic reactions have a boomerang effect. Although the immune system initially responds with a heightened reaction when an allergen is contacted, the white blood cell population then becomes depressed and remains lower than normal for as long as the exposure continues. This can cause chronic suppression of the immune system.
4. Stress. Stress can suppress the immune system by keeping your body in the fight or flight mode for an extended period of time. Stress can also deplete your body of many nutrients necessary to fight infection.
My message is simple: to keep yourself and your family healthy, eat well, sleep well, exercise well, and take those important moments to recharge your battery – your immune system.
Shawn M. Nisbet, RHN, CFA, is a registered holistic nutritionist, certified fitness consultant and Nordic pole walking master instructor. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; Tel: 416.804.0938. www.shawnnisbet.com.