Top 5 Foods for Immune Health
Garlic and Onions
You could write a book on the health benefits of garlic, in fact there are quite a few. In terms of immune health and resistance to colds and flu, garlic tops my list of foods to eat. Also, it’s delicious and easily added to many meals. Garlic, as well as onions, contains the sulfur compound, allicin, which has been shown to be highly effective against common infections like colds, flu, and stomach viruses. It is also effective against more powerful microbes like tuberculosis and botulism. Load up on it — who cares if you smell like garlic, it beats being sick any day.
Sauerkraut (and other fermented foods)
If you think you don’t like sauerkraut, I suggest you give it another chance. It’s actually quite good and the health benefits are remarkable. The beneficial bacteria in raw sauerkraut — meaning it hasn’t been pasteurized — promote the growth of good bacteria in your digestive tract. Friendly bacteria have a powerful effect on your gut’s immune system, which is your first defense against harmful pathogens. These bacteria also aid in the production of antibodies. Sauerkraut is a more affordable and more delicious alternative to taking probiotics out of a bottle. In fact, it’s relatively easy to make your own sauerkraut at home. Otherwise, when shopping for it in the store make sure it’s raw. It’s easy to serve as a condiment with many foods, or good for a snack on its own.
These include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, cauliflower, collards, kale, and greens from mustard, radish, and turnip. Granted you’ll be getting some cabbage in your sauerkraut, but these winter vegetables are crucial to maintaining good immunity throughout the cold months and you really need to load up. It’s no coincidence that this is their season and along with potatoes and carrots these are some of the only local vegetables available.
One of the American Cancer Society’s key dietary recommendations to reduce the risk of cancer is to include plenty cruciferous vegetables in your diet. Proper immune function goes hand in hand with preventing cancer (as a side note, all of the foods on this list are also anticancer foods) and the phytochemicals that promote immunity, are abundant in the cabbage family. Most of these compounds are glucosinates, which work by dramatically increasing antioxidant defense mechanisms. All of these vegetables are easily steamed, sautéed, braised, or roasted (with some garlic!) for quick, easy side dishes or lunches. See my recipe here for simple sautéed cabbage.
I’m sure you’ve heard about the benefits of green tea before, but its reputation is well deserved and thus it earns a place on this list. Green tea, along with black tea, contains high levels of vitamin C, D, and K and riboflavin as well as good amounts of many trace minerals. But what gives green tea its superior health profile is the polyphenols it contains. The major polyphenols are flavonoids — these are well known antioxidants with powerful detoxifying abilities. Green tea polyphenols seem to increase the activity of antioxidant enzymes in the small intestine, liver, and lungs. Drink green tea throughout the morning and afternoon but not in evening as it does contain some caffeine.
Power Spices: Turmeric and Oregano
Turmeric is a member of the ginger family commonly found in curry spice blends. Turmeric has an array of health benefits, one being its positive effect on immune health. It has long been studied as a natural antibiotic agent and studies have confirmed that it can inhibit the growth of bacteria and viruses. Its medicinal qualities largely stem from one of its chemical compounds, curcumin — which gives it a yellow pigment and has potent antioxidant qualities. Here’s a simple recipe for Garlic Curry Broccoli.
Oregano has been shown to exhibit potent antioxidant qualities due in part to two oils it contains: thymol and carvacrol, which are antimicrobial agents. In one analysis done by the USDA, oregano scored the highest in antioxidant activity of any herb or food tested and ranked higher than many fruits and vegetables. It contained 42 times the antioxidant activity of apples, 12 times as much as oranges, and and four times as much as blueberries. During the winter months, dried oregano is easily used to spice up an array of soups, stews, and sauces.