Last week, we discussed how to support our immune system – lifestyle edition. This week, are looking at how to support your immune system – (the) food edition. Think: 🍎🍉🍇🍓🥬🥦🥑🥒🍠🌶🌽🍆 (these emojis have no special reason other than displaying a variety of whole foods 🤣).
Recap: What Is Your Immune System?
Your immune system is a network of cells and organs that protect you from viruses and bacteria. The immune system is able to neutralize foreign substances that enter your body. About 70 – 80% of your immune system is based in your gut. So, a lot of the foods we are covering are gut-friendly and hence support your overall wellbeing.
How to Support Your Immune System – Food Edition
Please note that the list below is not exhaustive. It is just a highlight on a few key immune system-supporting foods/food groups. Let’s dive in 🤗🥰.
Garlic is known for its medicinal and health properties. Raw garlic has antiviral, antifungal, as well as antibacterial properties. These antimicrobial properties are mainly coming from an active compound called “Allicin”. Allicin develops best when garlic has been crushed and sitting for about 10 minutes. This compound also greatly reduces when being heated – so be sure to consume raw garlic from time to time.
These have long been known to have medicinal properties but medicinal mushrooms have really received a seat in the spotlight in more recent years. Mushrooms contain a lot of phytonutrients that support the immune system. Additionally, medicinal mushrooms are also anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and contain anti-inflammatory properties. The best known medicinal mushroom is likely shiitake, which has also been shown to increase gut immunity. A really easy way to get medicinal mushrooms into your diet is — by adding some to a broth OR drinking them (I know you probably did not expect that one 🤣). There is a company called “Four Sigmatic” that produces delicious mushroom coffees, cocoa, etc. Check them out if you want to learn more / experience in this field.
Probiotics are living bacteria that help to promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria. You can either take probiotics as a supplement or get this through fermented foods that have developed these friendly microorganisms. Kefir, Homemade Sauerkraut, Kombutscha, and Kimchi are all awesome ways to get some probiotics into your diet. Remember that the food should not be homogenized, as else the good gut bacteria have been “killed” in the heating process. Also, a little bit of fermented food at every meal goes a long way, rather than one large batch (it may be “too much” for your digestive tract, which then ruins the benefit).
This is a type of non-digestible fiber that the good gut bacteria (Probiotics 👆🏻) can feed on. Garlic, onion, and leeks are all prebiotics, along with asparagus, bananas, oats, and many more. Eat a varied diet with plenty of vegetables and fruit in order to ramp up this benefit.
As you likely know (because I go on and on about it on the blog) fiber is super important for your digestive tract. It basically acts in two ways: It helps to eliminate waste from your gut (literally) ensuring that everything moves along smoothly and your digestive tract is kept clean. It also bulks up your stool, which keeps you full for longer. You can find fiber in most fruits and vegetables, as well as beans, nuts, and whole-grain products.
This includes honey, bee pollen, and bee propolis. They all stimulate anti-inflammatory activity in the body. They are also anti-microbial, as well as anti-viral, and tend to be very rich in antioxidants. Honey may also help with allergies. In order to ramp up the full benefits of honey vs. allergy, be sure to buy as local as possible (as this means the bees have been “working” with pollen from your area). Fun fact: Honey is actually the only product on the planet that does not have an expiry date.
Vitamin C & D
I know this is not really food but I wanted to mention these two as well. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and vitamin, which helps with decreasing inflammation in the body. It also plays a key role in producing collagen, which supports your skin to act as a defense mechanism against harmful bacteria. Additionally, it aids with growing and building antibodies, which protect you against harmful substances. We have covered Vitamin D immensely, so be sure to read up on the benefits of Vitamin D post.
And this concludes our second part about how we can help and support our immune system. Remember that keeping your immune system working optimally and protecting you against viruses and bacteria is a continuous process and a balancing act of both lifestyle and food factors. Remember also that the above list is not exhaustive. I do believe though that the more we are eating whole, plant-based, and unprocessed foods, the more we are supporting our gut and thereby our immune system.