Submitted by Angela Larson - Dietitian on Monday, March 9, 2020
We are all concerned about keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe from sickness. Did you know that what you eat can have a profound impact on your susceptibility to catching things that are going around? Many foods influence the workings of the immune system, but some foods have special immune enhancing effects. Certain foods can increase the number of natural killer cells in the body, which help to destroy viruses. Others help enhance the part of the immune system that forms antibodies. Antibodies are like the immune system’s memory helping us not to catch the same viral sickness twice. Let’s explore some delicious and powerful foods that can help ward off all kinds of germy invaders and keep our bodies well.
- Coconut Oil – Coconut oil is rich in a special substance called monolaurin which is a germ fighting powerhouse. Refined coconut oil is clean and flavorless, making a perfect stand-in for vegetable oil in dishes or for cooking. Virgin coconut oil has a pronounced coconut flavor which adds flair to many dishes.
- Garlic – Garlic doesn’t just ward off vampires -- it’s also great for preventing sickness. Garlic is most effective when it’s consumed raw within an hour of being cut or crushed. Try raw garlic in a delicious homemade yogurt-based tzatziki sauce, which is great for dipping veggies or in wraps.
- Herbs and spices – Many herbs and spices have medicinal qualities that have made them valuable for centuries. Notably, turmeric, common in Indian cuisine, and oregano, both have potent antimicrobial properties. Try a delicious Indian Tikka Masala or make golden tea with turmeric. Oregano tastes great in a wide variety of dishes, especially Italian and Mexican cuisines.
- Citrus – Citrus fruits have long been heralded the kings of the vitamin C kingdom. Vitamin C is a well-known friend to the immune system. While vitamin C supplements are popular, nothing can beat the real thing in its natural form found only in foods. In food, vitamin C contains special components called “co-factors” which helps it do its many important jobs in the body. Fresh citrus is crucial because vitamin C is prone to breakdown, so eat or juice oranges promptly after cutting, or squeeze a lemon or lime into your water daily. Other great non-citrus sources of vitamin C are sweet raw bell peppers, tropical fruits, and broccoli.
- Seafood – Zinc plays a crucial role in immune function, and some of us may not be eating enough. Seafood is one of the best sourcirtces of zinc, especially oysters, crab, and lobster. Omega-3 fatty acids, found abundantly in salmon and even sardines are also important for dampening inflammation and supporting immunity. Check out the seafood selection at your local Brookshire Brothers – fresh, frozen, and packaged seafood options all work well.
- Cruciferous Veggies – Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, most greens (except spinach), and cabbages are part of the family of cruciferous veggies. These veggies are extra special because they have high levels of all kinds of immune-enhancing goodies. Of particular importance are sulforaphanes, which are sulfur-containing compounds that help boost natural killer cell function to stop viruses in their tracks. Cruciferous veggies are also jam-packed with vitamin C and other awesome immune-enhancing vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, so make them part of your daily routine.
- Bone Broth – Why do we eat chicken noodle soup when we’re sick? This wise practice stems from the healing properties of rich, gelatinous bone broth. Chicken and beef stocks that are traditionally prepared are rich in gelatin and an important amino acid called glycine. Glycine is needed to help fight off infection and keep the body in tip-top shape. Gelatin-rich foods are also soothing to the stomach and help promote gut health. So buy chicken with bones and skin (cooked rotisserie chicken scraps work too), simmer gently for 12 to 24 hours in the crockpot, and you’ve got yourself nourishing homemade bone broth. Ready-made varieties of high protein bone broth are available in many Brookshire Brothers locations as well. Don’t see them at your store? Make a product request!
- Green Tea and Honey – Catechins aren’t a derogatory nickname for your neighbor’s crazy cat. Instead, catechins are compounds found in green tea which fight off viruses and increase overall immune function. And what goes better with green tea than honey? Honey has its own set of super powers, including antimicrobial properties and great effectiveness as a natural cough suppressant. (Just remember not to give honey to children under the age of one.)
- Whole Milk, Butter, Cheese, Egg Yolks, and Liver – What do these foods have in common? They are all great sources of the active-form of vitamin A. Active-form vitamin A is found in animal-based foods containing fat, such as dairy products and liver. Vitamin A is crucial for the immune system to function at full capacity, and deficiency can make you prone to infections. Eating red, orange, and green leafy veggies can also help boost vitamin A status because they contain beta-carotene, but beta-carotene must be converted to active vitamin A within the body. Some people have difficulty making this conversion. So aim to include both animal sources of vitamin A as well as leafy vegetables to help keep your vitamin A levels optimum and ward off sickness.
- Extra-Virgin Olive Oil – Olive oil contains many wonderful substances that support health. Two compounds in the polyphenol class of antioxidants are known to be potent inhibitors of viruses. Try using fresh extra-virgin olive oil in homemade salad dressing, or add a drizzle to your favorite savory dishes. Toss veggies in olive oil before roasting and pan sautéing.
Visit your local Brookshire Brothers for all of your real fresh, real delicious immunity boosting ingredients!
Angela Larson is a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) who works with Brookshire Brothers promoting real fresh, real delicious foods. Delicious food is her passion, so she loves trying new recipes and exploring the more holistic side of health and nutrition. When Angela isn't working with Brookshire Brothers, she's a mostly stay-at-home mom who loves to cook, garden, and spend time outdoors with her husband, Austin, and their two daughters.