We live in challenging times. Our political system is in upheaval; our food supply is under assault by big business interests who care only for profit, not for quality. Our fragile planet groans under the weight of our excesses. Our healthcare costs are through the roof, leaving many of us feeling unsettled about the quality of care we could receive…if we needed it.
It’s time we become pro-activists in creating our own wellness. Our day-to-day health is our responsibility. No one can take care of us better than we can. I know we are all busy and often over-scheduled but the least we can do is try to keep ourselves as healthy as possible. In other words, we all need to boost our immune systems.
How do we do that? Your diet, sweetie.
Here are my top ten immune-boosting foods…and recipes that use them. See? I have left you no excuses!
1. Whole Grains
The benefits of whole grains to our wellness are immeasurable, to be honest. Sure, we know they provide fiber for efficient digestion and complex carbohydrates to fuel our brains. We know they’re rich in minerals and vitamins needed to remain vital. But the energy of whole grains is amazing. Each grain houses every aspect of life, from seed to fruit, from potential to realization. Translation? Whole grains nourish us fully: body, mind and spirit and give us the energy we need to perform at our best each and every day.
High protein, quick-cooking quinoa is the star of this recipe with avocado, rich in healthy fats and its co-star to create a luscious whole grain dish that satisfies.
Vitamin C, vitamin C, vitamin C…are you sensing a theme here? Eating citrus fruit, like grapefruits, oranges, tangerines, lemons, limes and blood oranges (during their yummy, but too short season) gives you a healthy dose of this most important antioxidant.
But lest you overdose on citrus, remember there’s a rich dose of vitamin C in red peppers, leafy greens (all hail kale…), cauliflower, asparagus, snow peas, Brussels sprouts, sweet potato, winter squash, cabbage, tomatoes and collard greens.
We all know the greatest immune booster is the anti-oxidant known as vitamin C and now you know why eating your veggies and fruit is so important.
And this recipe makes it sooooooo easy to get what you need, deliciously. And it’s perfectly in season.
3. Garlic…and Other Alliums
These edible bulbs are so nutrient-dense, they make other vegetables look like slackers. Their pungent sweetness can transform any dish, from ‘meh’ to spectacular. The sulfides in these bulbs (which are responsible for their strong smells and flavors) ward off more than just local blood suckers; the allium family has been linked to reduced risk of breast and colon cancers. And they contain a number of antioxidants, such as vitamin C and quercetin, which may have disease-thwarting and age-slowing properties.
While garlic, onions, scallions, shallots and leeks are available for our culinary pleasure year-round, a few other jewels in the allium crown, can only be found in spring: ramps, scapes, chives and green garlic. Enjoy them while you can.
This creamy soup has it all.
Never underestimate the powers of homemade soup to restore wellness and robust vitality. On top of being an efficient delivery system for nutrients to our cells; besides relaxing our digestive tracts so we digest easily…there’s nothing more powerful in boosting immune function than soup. Load your broth with tons of vegetables for the most delicious way to get your adequate servings daily.
This is the soup to end all soups, in my view. It’s anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting and satisfying. Oh…and so quick to make, you’ll see you have no excuses not to cook.
While we could pile broccoli in with other veggies, it’s so special, it needs a category all its own. Loaded with vitamins A and C, as well as the antioxidant glutathione, our mothers may not have had a line on the specifics, but they knew…just knew in their mom genes (not to be confused with mom jeans) that it was essential to health.
I was a fussy eater, but my mother knew I would eat this one. I liked simple, plain food. So she would serve this with a drizzle of olive oil and it was a sure bet.
Ounce for ounce, almonds are higher in fiber, calcium, vitamin E, riboflavin and niacin than any other tree nut, period. Every ounce, which translates to about 23 almonds nourishes us with 6 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, vitamin E, magnesium, riboflavin, calcium and potassium. And…almonds have a low-glycemic index.
Almonds contain a fairly high amount of fat, but about 2/3 of it is heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.
A recent study identified 20, yes 20, powerful antioxidant flavonoids in almond skin so you might want to consider eating them whole more often than blanched.
Try these indulgent cookies to get your fix of almond flavor and richness
Turmeric has been in use since antiquity for its anti-inflammatory, anti-flatulent and anti-microbial properties.
The herb contains health benefiting essential oils such as turmerone, zingiberene, cineole, and p-cymene. But it’s curcumin, a polyphenolic compound in the root that gives the gorgeous orange color to the turmeric that is the star of the show. Studies suggest that the curcumin may have anti-tumor, antioxidant, anti-arthritic, anti-ischemic and anti-inflammatory properties.
This traditional herb is also rich in antioxidants and dietary fiber, which helps to control blood LDL levels, as well as many essential vitamins such as vitamin B6, choline, niacin, and riboflavin, etc.
The fresh root contains good levels of vitamin C, which helps the body develop immunity against infectious agents, and remove harmful free oxygen radicals.
Turmeric contains good amounts of minerals like calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, copper, zinc, and magnesium. And just a few grams of turmeric per day either in the form of powder, crushed root or fresh root can provide enough nutrients to help you keep away from anemia, neuritis, memory disorders and offer protection against cancers, infectious diseases, high blood pressure, and strokes.
One of the easiest ways to get this valuable herb in your diet?
What’s with all the controversy about the benign little soybean, this source of ancient nutrition? All the questions! Will eating soy will give me breast cancer (Not True); cause ED in men (Not True); is it not recommended for women with breast cancer (Again, not so much...); is it bad for the developing brains of babies (Oy, seriously?)? Soy beans have been consumed in Asian cultures healthfully for thousands of years (and they still are today). Various well-funded anti-soy lobbies have done a wonderful job of creating all of this nonsensical controversy over this extremely healthy food. But look carefully and you will see studies by respected institutions like MD Anderson that conclude that traditional soy is linked to longevity and cancer prevention.
Here’s one of my favorite tofu recipes. It’s versatile, quick-cooking and rich in protein…oh…and low in fat.
Research done on adults with varying symptoms that can lead to heart disease, including elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, high blood pressure and erratic blood sugar levels, etc. were randomly assigned a diet that included either chicken noodle soup or a half-cup of pinto beans (served in soup or a salad) each day. Twelve weeks later, the group consuming beans showed improved cholesterol levels, by as much as 8%. That’s huge!
This simply piggybacks on the results from a 19-year study revealing people that ate beans often (four or more times a week), had a 22% reduced risk of developing heart disease.
What’s up with beans?
Soluble fiber. It doesn’t sound sexy but the soluble fiber in beans helps bind cholesterol and prevents absorption by the gut. And as the fiber ferments (in the gut), it helps change short-chain fatty acids so cholesterol formation is inhibited. (Ironically, this same fermentation is the thing that causes us to become ‘musical’ when we eat beans…if you get my drift.)
Beans are more than just their fiber though. Rich in heart-protective compounds like flavonoids, which help inhibit the adhesion of platelets in the blood, beans help reduce our risk for heart attack and stroke. And they’re a great source of protein for us plant-passionate types.
So eat your beans. If time is a factor, try lentils to introduce you to beans. They cook quickly and are divine.
10. Hot Spice
People love spicy food for its intense flavor, but studies prove that spices confer a host of health benefits. Spicy food ingredients, like hot peppers and horseradish, may help treat symptoms of the common cold or flu.
More than helping you work up a spices can do a lot to help us create wellness.
The compound that gives hot chilies its kick is capsaicin. The sweat you produce after eating spicy food could be helping you burn calories by temporarily boosting your metabolism by up to 8%. And spicy dishes have more of a chance to leave you satisfied; a Canadian study found eating an appetizer with hot sauce meant 200 fewer calories were consumed during the rest of the meal.
Some spicy foods have anti-cancer potential. Small studies have shown positive results, but experts say curcumin (there it is again…) requires further investigation before being used for cancer treatment. The American Cancer Society suggests that capsaicin may help slow the growth of prostate cancer cells. And while all most experts want to study the effects of hot spice more, it can’t hurt to add it to your cooking now.
Capsaicin, the active ingredient found in jalapenos, cayenne pepper and red chili peppers, may lower bad cholesterol, thus improving heart function. Capsaicin has been shown to help reduce the accumulation of cholesterol in the body by increasing its breakdown rate. Studies also found that capsaicin blocks a gene that narrows the arteries, so blood flow in the vessels is improved.
This springtime dish is sweetly flavored with a serious kick from the chili oil.