Effortless Additions – Building Your Immune System with Food
Welcome! The number one thing I’ve been hearing lately is “How can I protect myself and my family from getting sick?” I thought that it would be a good time to feature an Effortless Additions on immune health that uses real food to help boost your immune system as well as some other things you can effortlessly do to keep your family’s health at it’s best.
When I think of a healthy immune system, these are the top 3 factors that come to mind:
- What you put into your body (food/fuel)
- What you put on your body and breathe into your body (skin and air).
- What you put into your body (thoughts and emotions) as well as restorative sleep
In this post, I’m going to cover “What you put into your body (food/fuel)” and I will do separate posts for the other two so we can focus on food!
What you put into your body – food/fuel
Before I list some great foods to keep your immune system working it’s best, let’s get the “what not to do’s” out of the way because if you are going to eat all of this great stuff, you don’t want to undo all of that goodness!
- Stay away from or limit refined sugar and grains such as white flour aka wheat flour or enriched flour (manufacturers caught on to people not wanting unhealthy white flour so they changed the name to make the consumer believe it is a healthier flour). These products are stripped of nutrients and use up valuable nutrients in your body to metabolize them. If your body comes into contact with a virus – do you want your body to fight off the virus or use existing nutrients to metabolize processed foods?
- Stick with whole foods as often as possible. Nature has constructed food in a specific way so that the nutrients in foods work synergistically. Different nutrients work together and when a food is in a different form, some of the nutrients will be missing and it will not benefit the body the same. A couple of examples would be juice or pouches (sorry busy mom’s I know you don’t want to hear this but it’s important), these foods are pasteurized (heated) during processing, a lot of nutrients get depleted by heat and all of the enzymes (that aid the digestive system to assimilate and absorb your food). That nutritional information box does not reflect this, so when you see 100% of your daily requirements of vitamin C, that would be prior to heating. What you are left with is a very sugary product that is going to end up depleting nutrients (see point one). There’s a reason why kids will usually consume these foods without issue, even the pickiest of eaters.
So, let’s dive into the fun stuff! What can we do to fuel up our immune systems? I like to load up on foods that contain high doses of nutrients that support immune function. I love using food as often as I can over a supplement because the nutrients in whole foods work together synergistically for maximum absorption. The list of these foods really is endless so I have compiled a list of foods that my family uses regularly and can be found in most kitchens or easily added to your kitchen. The truth is that ALL whole foods are going to contain nutrients to support your immune health so making sure that your family’s diet is made up of mainly whole foods will ensure you are optimizing your immune health!
- Garlic – garlic is pretty much the superstar of all foods. Some easy ways we use garlic are: added to homemade salad dressings (like this balsamic vinaigrette), add when sautéing onion in sauces and soups, add to black beans and tossed in with roasted vegetables.
- Pumpkin Seeds – zinc plays an important role in immune health and effects every enzyme in the body. One of my favourite ways of boosting zinc is raw pumpkin seeds – they can be added to baked
goods, homemade granola, smoothies, sprinkled on salads or just eaten as is. Since I have a 2 year old, I use pumpkin seed butter or oil and he enjoys it straight off the spoon. The oil has a nice flavour that tastes like the seeds, it shouldn’t be heated but can be drizzled on salads or veggies before eating, added to smoothies or eaten straight off the spoon.
- Cod Liver Oil – Vitamin D is one of the most important nutrients for immune health. See this article for more information regarding why we may need to supplement it. Sunlight is the optimal source for natural vitamin D but since most people are still deficient for various reasons, cod liver oil is a great natural source. To further enhance your immune system, cod liver oil is also a good source of Vitamin A.
- Ground Flaxseeds – This delicious seed is packed with omega-3 fatty acids and fibre. It’s important for our immune health to have the correct ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 in our diets and our culture tends to have way too much omega-6. Ensuring you are getting some good sources of Omega-3’s is a great start to provide your body with the correct balance. Fibre is also another nutrient most people are not getting enough of. The average Canadian is only meeting half of their nutritional requirements of Fibre. Fibre is critical to ensure regular bowel function which will continuously remove toxins from your body which will benefit immune health. The best way to get all of those great nutrients from flaxseeds is to eat them ground. You can add them to smoothies, use flax eggs when baking, sprinkle it on oatmeal or like my kids just eat it straight off the spoon!
- Apples – the saying “an apple a day will keep the doctor away” definitely has some merit to it. Another great source of fibre – about 17% of an adults daily requirements in a medium sized apple. Apples are also a great source of Quercetin which has been shown to inhibit strains of the flu. Apples are also so easy to grab on the go, I will almost always have a few in my purse for quick snacks.
- Almonds and Walnuts – both nuts are a great source of vitamin E as well as fat (which is needed in order to absorb vitamin E since it is fat soluble). Both nuts can be snacked on alone, added to smoothies or homemade trail mix. My oldest son’s favourite way to enjoy walnuts is on steel cut oats with banana and a pinch of cinnamon.
- Carrots – these are a kid favourite at my house and eaten almost daily. They offer tons of beta-carotene (which the body converts to vitamin A). Vitamin A is a critical nutrient to maintain proper function of the liver. Your liver has many jobs in the body including detoxification. If your liver is not able to properly deal with toxins, they will be redistributed throughout the body which will effect immune health greatly. We mainly eat raw carrots and vary the shapes such as sticks, circles, grated or spiralized.
- Water – most of the human body is made up of water so it is very important to make water your and your family’s drink of choice as well as make sure you are sourcing quality water. As I mentioned above, juice doesn’t provide very much nutrition and tends to take nutrients from the body due to it’s very high sugar content (without the rest of the wonderful ingredients found in whole foods to properly metabolize the sugar). Juicing in your home is great (see tips below) but you also want to include lots of fresh water in your day.
One of the most used vitamins when not feeling well is Vitamin C. There are so many food sources throughout most people’s kitchen that I thought I’d give Vitamin C foods it’s own little section. Since Vitamin C is water soluble, our bodies do not store it so it is important to fuel the body with vitamin C rich foods throughout the day. Here are some common foods that contain a good amount of Vitamin C:
- Lemons – use in marinades and dressings, squeeze over meals or squeeze into your glass of water. I always add a lemon when I’m juicing and they can be a nice refreshing addition to a smoothie.
- Strawberries, kiwi, papaya and citrus fruit. While most people think of oranges, there are many fruits with way higher vitamin C content, so you don’t have to limit yourself to oranges all day long when feeling under the weather.
- Red Peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale. There are many vegetables packed with Vitamin C that are easy to add to snacks and meals.
- Herbs such as Thyme and Parsley can be added to so many recipes and give you a boost of vitamin C.
Vitamin C also helps absorb iron so pairing up Vitamin C rich foods with iron rich foods can even further help with immune health.
- Juicing is a great way to get a big punch of nutrients. Juicing makes nutrients very bioavailable to your cells so your body just soaks it all up. I like to use lots of vegetables, ginger, turmeric and a little bit of fruit. Here’s a recipe that includes beets that I use often.
- Smoothies are another great way to get lots of nutrients into your diet. Besides loading up on all the great antioxidants from fruits and vegetables, adding ground flax can help boost your fibre intake as well other unlimited options (here’s a couple a couple of smoothie recipes we use often).
- Soups and broths are another great way to get a variety of nutrients. Since you cook all the vegetables in the broth or water, it is loaded with nutrients. Even if you pick out any veggies your children don’t care for they are still getting lots of the nutrients from it. This recipe for Lentil Soup is delicious and includes lots of garlic and a nice variety of vegetables.
- Season away – adding spices and herbs is a great way to enhance nutrition and flavour. A little goes a long way!
I hope some of these foods and ideas help you and your family to build up your immune systems. Check out my consultation page if you would like specific diet and lifestyle recommendations to help you meet your health goals.