Top Foods for A Strong Immune System
by Amanda Box
I have some unfortunate news. Maybe you have already heard the truth, or experienced it for yourself.
The truth is…it takes more than an apple a day to keep the doctor away.
Apples are great! Don’t get me wrong! They contain vitamins and antioxidants beneficial to our bodies. But it takes more than an apple to stave away sickness.
I like to think that this old proverb is a metaphor. It isn’t just about choosing to eat an apple every day, rather choosing a healthy lifestyle! An apple alone can only do so much. Yet, a lifestyle composed of healthy foods can perform miracles by creating a healthy and strong immune system! Strong immunity will keep you out of the doctor’s office and enjoying your life!
Immunity and Lack of Nutrition
What you eat can literally make or break your immunity. Chronic disease and illnesses can manifest simply from poor dietary choices. Regardless of weight, race, or gender, making poor food choices will ultimately strip your immune system leaving you susceptible to sickness. From the flu to diabetes, what you eat on a daily basis can truly make all the difference.
Food compromises your immune system in two main ways:
- Under-consumption of nutrients
- Over-consumption of anti-nutrients
Sickness with roots in lack of nutrition can been seen all throughout history. For example, diseases like scurvy, rickets, and beriberi are all caused by a lack of vitamins C, D, and B1, respectively. Children and adults in poor underdeveloped countries even today, suffer from sickness and disease caused solely from malnutrition.
The sad and disappointing fact is that although we live in a country overflowing with food, we too suffer from malnutrition! When you think of malnutrition, you probably picture a poor African child with bony limbs and a swollen belly. However, malnutrition looks quite the opposite here in the United States. Many people here that suffer from malnutrition are actually overweight or obese! This malnutrition does not come from a lack of food. Rather, it is from an over abundance of foods that are either void of nutrition or overflowing with anti-nutrients.
What exactly are anti-nutrients? They are substances that prevent the absorption and utilization of nutrients in the body. They can accomplish this in several different ways.
- Binding with nutrients and preventing their utilization
- Blocking nutrient absorption sites
- Encouraging elimination of nutrients from the body
- Creating imbalances in body systems which lead to improper absorption and utilization
- Destroying beneficial bacteria and enzymes needed for digestion and utilization
Anti-nutrients come in many forms. Though most are chemical based, some anti-nutrients are present in more natural based foods like certain plants.
The most common anti-nutrients are found in:
- Sugar: Causes the body to use up vitamins and minerals
- Wheat: Contains phytic acid which prevents the absorption of important minerals
- Artificial Additives (Artificial Colors, Flavors, and Sweeteners): See below
- Hydrogenated Oils: Damage cells and suppress immune system function
- GMO foods: Contain enzyme inhibitors that prevent digestion
- Fluoride: Blocks the absorption of essential iodine
- Soy products: Suppress thyroid function, mineral absorption, and protein digestion
- Drugs (specifically antibiotics, steroids, and pain relievers): Destroy beneficial bacteria, reduce absorption and increase elimination of nutrients.
Though refining foods may make their taste more appealing, it was the popularity of refined foods that brought about malnutrition diseases like beriberi. Beriberi is caused from a lack of vitamin B1 and causes inflammation of the nerves and heart failure. Its prevalence began when refined white rice became the preference over brown rice. Stripping the hull off rice left it void of B1; therefore, leaving thousands deficient in this essential vitamin. The same can be said of many grains, which are now refined. Wheat is the most prominent example.
Refining sugars and grains not only leads to a lack of nutrients, but also a much higher glycemic index causing a rise in blood sugar. Chronic high blood sugar compromises the immune system and can also lead to chronic disease like diabetes.
Artificial additives often contain chemical components that compromise immunity by damaging cells and initiating unnecessary immune responses throughout the body. Because these additives are artificial, our bodies often recognize them not as food, but as foreign invaders. Consuming these artificial additives on a regular bases can over-stimulate the immune system and lead to autoimmune diseases.
Always read labels. My rule of thumb is that if you can’t pronounce it, then don’t eat it. Real food ingredients are easily recognized. But, artificial additives have names that sound like chemical compounds, because that’s what they are!
Avoiding anti-nutrient foods is absolutely essential in building and maintaining immunity. Only by absorbing and utilizing essential nutrients, can our body achieve balance. It is this balance that contributes to a healthy and strong immune system!
Super Nutrient Foods
Avoiding processed and refined foods is extremely important in keeping your immune system strong and uncompromised. However, boosting the immune system truly comes from adding nutrient dense foods into your diet. These foods feed your immune system what it needs to stay strong and easily overcome whatever microorganism may try to make its way through your body. They also protect you from cancer and chronic diseases by increasing killer cell activity and lowering inflammation in the body.
There is a lot of debate about what foods are actually more “super.” There always seems to be a new miracle food on the market that claims to cure you of all your ailments. Although almost all of these foods are wonderful, they alone cannot do it all. Just as I said about the apple, no one food alone has all your body’s needs.
It is important to note that nutrition doesn’t just come from vitamins and minerals. There are several other substances that are crucial for the health of your body and are key for maintaining a strong immune system! Some of these substances include:
- Probiotics (friendly bacteria)
- Fatty acids
So what does an immune boosting diet really look like? First and foremost, it is void of processed and fast foods that are brimming with anti-nutrients. Instead, it includes these wonderful foods listed below, which build your immune system from the inside out!
Interestingly enough, 80% of your immune system is located in your digestive tract. Every single food that travels through your gut has the potential to affect your immune system by harming you or helping you. Many immune deficiencies and autoimmune diseases have their roots in a toxic, out-of-balance gut.
Consuming foods that contain probiotic bacteria is the best way to maintain a healthy balance in the digestive system. This contributes directly to a strong immune system. Probiotics neutralize and crowd out pathogenic bacteria, aid in the production of antibodies, and prevent inflammation.
Fermented foods contain naturally derived probiotic bacteria. Many different cultures all across the world have included fermented foods in their diet for thousands of years. Koreans eat Kimchi with every meal, the Chinese eat Natto, and the Germans have sauerkraut. These cultures understand that fermented foods benefit digestion and increase overall health.
Try including at least 2 servings of fermented foods into your diet each day. Some great choices include:
- Sauerkraut (vinegar free)
- Kombucha tea
- Fermented pickles (Bubbie’s Brand or make your own homemade fermented pickles)
Colorful Fruits and Vegetables
It really is important that you eat a rainbow of colors in your diet. Many people stick to a couple of their favorite fruits and veggies, but miss out on the immune boosting properties by expanding their palette. Don’t get in a rut eating the same few things at every meal. Try new vegetables and fruits! The more colorful they are, the more antioxidants and nutrients they contain! The chart below explains the nutrients contained in fruits and vegetables according to their color.
Coconuts have gotten a lot of attention in the last few years, and for good reason! Coconuts contain unique fatty acids that do wonders for your immunity. The presence of lauric acid and caprylic acid in coconuts are unique in that they are also found in human breast milk. These two fatty acids have the ability to combat bacteria, fungi, and viruses. This is one reason why breast milk is so wonderful for keeping babies healthy! Now, you can get those same benefits by consuming coconut products!
Coconut oil and coconut milk contain the highest levels of lauric and caprylic acid amongst all the coconut food products. You can use coconut oil in baking, sautéing, frying and much more! Coconut milk makes a great dairy substitute and is great in soups, gravies, and smoothies!
One little clove of garlic packs quite the sickness fighting punch! Garlic contains potent antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties that your body will never build up a resistance to. This makes it wonderful for daily consumption! Garlic makes some of the most boring dishes absolutely delicious. Add to your ground beef, your chicken and your veggie side dishes for more flavors and an immune boost!
A recent study was published that revealed green tea boosts the immune system by increasing its ability to fight bacteria, fungi, and even cancer!
It also aids in decreasing inflammation and lowering stress levels in the body, which are two of the leading causes of illness. Matcha green tea is the most potent form of green tea and comes in a powder that is a vibrant green color. You can drink the tea plain, or add milk or a dairy substitute to make a green tea latte! Some even add matcha to their daily smoothie.
This brightly colored golden spice is what gives curry its signature color. Turmeric contains a substance called curcumin, which is a super powerful antioxidant. Curcumin has the ability to neutralize free radicals, lower inflammation, and even reduce pain levels in the body. Turmeric can be added to vegetables and main dishes as well as added to drinks like the Golden Milk recipe below.
One of the easiest ways to incorporate these immune boosting foods into your diet is to include them together in a smoothie! Smoothies are great for breakfast, and also when you’re feeling run down and on the verge of getting sick. Pumping your body full of nutrition can give your body what it needs to overcome seasonal illness and even chronic disease! This smoothie contains immune boosting probiotic bacteria, microorganism busting fatty acids, and antioxidants that lower stress and inflammation. Feel free to experiment with the fruits and vegetables you add by coming up with new and exciting combinations!
Immune Boosting Smoothie
- ½ cup unflavored yogurt
- ½ cup coconut milk
- 1 cup raw spinach
- ½ cup frozen berries
- 1 tsp. matcha tea (optional)
- 20 drops of Stevia
Blend all the ingredients in your blender and enjoy!
This warm, soothing milk is perfect for cold and flu season. It contains both coconut milk and turmeric, which combine to form a potent immune boosting elixir. It can be served either savory or sweet depending on your taste preferences.
- 2 cups of organic or raw milk (or substitute coconut milk)
- 1 teaspoon dried turmeric
- 1 teaspoon dried ginger (optional)
- Sprinkle of black pepper (for savory option only)
- Sprinkle of sea salt (for savory option only)
- 1 tsp. honey
- Omit black pepper and sea salt if you prefer sweet milk.
- Place milk in a saucepan over medium heat.
- Add turmeric, ginger, and pepper and stir well.
- Let the milk begin to simmer — small bubbles will form on the surface.
- Continue to stir.
- Turn off heat, remove saucepan from burner and cover. Allow to infuse for 10 minutes.
- Serve warm
Incorporating nutrient rich foods into your diet will help you achieve maximum immunity and greatly decrease your risk of illness and disease. If you have a chronic disease or illness, take heart. Adding these nutrient dense foods into your diet can often decrease symptoms and in some cases eliminate them altogether! Try our Immune Boosting Smoothie and Golden Milk to give your body that extra boost. Proper nutrition can truly be the miracle you’re looking for!!
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Amanda Box is a Traditional Naturopath and a graduate of Clayton College of Natural Health. She’s been in the health and wellness industry for over 12 years and currently practices naturopathic consulting in the Kansas City, Missouri area. Her passion is helping others achieve wellness of the whole person – mind, body, and spirit. If you don’t have a good local naturopathic practitioner to turn to for your personal needs, Amanda does phone consultations! She can help you with weight loss, detox/cleansing, acute and chronic illnesses, skin and body care, grocery shopping, pantry overhauls, and more! Visit her blog “My Life in a Healthnut Shell” at http://amandabox.blogspot.com/ for contact info.
 Adapted from freshbitesdaily.com