Do you know what foods are good for the immune system, and which ones actually boost it?
Many of us usually go for foods high in vitamin C; usually tend to be citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, and lemons, or vegetables like bell peppers, broccoli and spinach. Read below for more immune-boosting foods, some that you may not have heard of before!
Goji berries – Recently, goji berries have been labelled as a ‘superfood’; native to Asia, these dried berries have been used in traditional chinese medicine for years.
Goji berries contain polysaccharides (lycium barbarum polysaccharides or LPBs) that modulate the immune system by boosting lymphocytes and macrophages (white blood cells) and therefore thought to be immune stimulating; allowing it to not only fight off germs and infections, but also control immune response causing allergies. The polysaccharides in goji berries also exert antioxidant activities that may have positive effects on immune function; one of the many antioxidants present in goji berries, carotenoids like zeaxanthin acts as a precursor to vitamin C. High levels of these compounds are known to decrease inflammatory cytokine levels and detoxify the body of harmful toxins.
A study testing the immune-enhancing effects of goji berries found that elderly people who consumed a goji berry supplement had a stronger immune system response to a flu vaccine compared to those who took placebo. Goji berries can be added into smoothies, trail mixes, porridge, yoghurt, salads, baked goods and desserts.
Fermented foods – Fermentation is an ancient and natural process in which the microorganisms (bacteria and yeast) convert carbohydrates like sugars and starches to alcohol or acids. This acts as a preservative and gives food a distinct tangy taste. This method is still used to produce well known wine, cheese and yoghurt. Fermented foods also promote the growth of beneficial bacteria for the microbiome, and are associated with stronger immunity as well as improved digestion.
Sauerkraut, pickled cucumbers, kimchi, miso and fermented tofu are great for boosting immunity; they increase antibodies in your body that help fight infectious disease. Additionally, some fermented foods provide antioxidants that remove free radicals.
Bone broth has been used for centuries to help fight colds and flu; enriched with vitamins, minerals and anti-inflammatory amino acids, this concoction helps fight infections and flush out unwanted toxins when cooked for 24-48 hours for potent benefits.
Ugli fruit – While it isn’t really the ugliest fruit in the world, the ugli fruit is a cross between an orange and a grapefruit. It contains lots of highly beneficial micronutrient compounds. More than 4,000 polyphenols and 60 flavonoids were identified, including catechins (flavanols), anthocyanins, flavones, and flavonols.
Studies have shown that these substances many beneficial effects, including anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-allergic, antioxidant and anticarcinogenic benefits. The polyphenol and flavonoid compounds may help protect against viral infections, allergies, and fungal conditions. Further, citrus skin peel also contains coumarins, phytochemicals shown to protect against tumorous cancers. Pectin in citrus fruits can alleviate diarrhea, which negatively affects the digestive and immune reactions.
The fruit also contains 8% of the daily recommended intake of dietary fibre. This is important as consuming fibre makes the gut bulked enough to sweep out toxins from your system. Additionally, the amount of nutrients absorbed by your system is increased. As the majority of the immune system is located in the gut, there is a strong connection with the level of immunity to illness and disease.
Arrowroot – this is an ancient starchy, gluten free vegetable. Currently, arrowroot is used mostly as a thickener in food; a healthier alternative to cornstarch.
Extracts of arrowroot powder exhibit cytotoxic activities that aid in building immunity by boosting cells within the immune system. Evidence suggests that arrowroot extracts can fight foodborne pathogens; the antibacterial effects were evaluated against microbes (E.Coli, S. aureus, Listeria monocytogenes and S. Enteritidis) in ground beef and mushrooms. Results showed the extracts could inhibit microbial growth in many foods. Arrowroot is a grain-free, starchy flour great for baking baked goods or pancakes and giving them that slight chewiness that you’re looking for.
Mushrooms – the immune powerhouse. They contain powerful compounds that can boost health and improve the immune system; able to strengthen your immune system when it is weak and also downregulate when it is active. These compounds fight inflammation, destroy infectious microbes and regenerate nerve cells. Moreover, mushrooms contain antioxidants, beneficial to reduce inflammation.
One of the most studied mushrooms is the turkey tail mushroom due to its ability to fight disease and enhance the immune system. The turkey tail mushroom contains beta-glucans; this bioactive compound enhances macrophages and natural killer cell functions, essential role in the immune system.
Studies indicate that beta-glucans can help the immune system to slow the growth of tumours and protect the body from the effects of cancer-causing compounds.
Turkey tail mushroom also contains prebiotics which feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut, supporting overall immunity. Since turkey tail is so effective at enhancing the immune system, many people consume it during the cold and flu season.
Shiitake mushrooms are a well known staple of Asian cuisine. The American College of Nutrition found that shiitake mushrooms can improve the efficiency of the immune system, improve gut immunity, and decrease inflammation. Shiitake mushrooms may have potent antimicrobial properties, making it an effective natural antibiotic. Interestingly, a study showed it only killed disease-causing (pathogenic) microbes, leaving beneficial bacteria unharmed. Other mushrooms that enhance the immune system include reishi, Maitake and Cordycep mushroom.
The key to incorporating immune boosting food in your diet is variety; eat one of these foods will not be enough to fight off infections, even if it is consumed regularly.
If you want to improve your immune system and know which foods will give your immune system a turbo-shot, then work with one of our Nutritionists or Functional Medicine Practitioners who can help with serving sizes and recommended daily intake so that you get a balanced intake of all the vital nutrients.
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