A well-functioning and balanced immune system is crucial for maintaining good health and prevention of disease. When our immune system is working optimally it can fight off infections effectively and will defends us from cancer and other chronic diseases. However, if there is a problem with how the immune system is functioning, its ability to fight off infections like viruses that cause colds and flu will be affected. This leaves you vulnerable to illness and the development of allergies, autoimmune disorders and chronic diseases like cancer.
A strong functioning immune system is dependant on many factors, including getting adequate sleep and regular exercise, managing stress through meditation and yoga, and most importantly eating a wholesome well-balanced diet. Embracing the wisdom of herbal and nutritional medicine by including immune-strengthening foods and herbs in your daily diet is one of the best ways to bolster your immune defences to ward off colds and flu and other winter nasties.
Here are some of the best immune-boosting super foods, nutrients and herbs mother nature has to offer.
Garlic has been used as a natural medicine for centuries to support immune health and fight off infections. Garlic contains an active compound called allicin which gives garlic its super immune stimulating powers. Garlic can help enhance the disease-fighting action of white blood cells. Garlic has been found to reduce the risk of getting a cold or flu, and if you are sick it can reduce the severity of symptoms and will help you recover faster. (1)
Garlic has antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties which makes it beneficial for fighting a variety of infections. Garlic acts like a natural antibiotic with the added benefit of supporting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Unlike pharmaceutical antibiotics that destroy all of the good and bad bacteria in your gut.
Eating garlic regularly is one of the best ways to protect yourself from colds and flu during the winter months. The way you prepare and cook garlic will affect its health benefits. Allicin is activated when you cut or crush garlic. Heat does destroy some of garlic’s allicin content. Allowing garlic to sit for 10 minutes after cutting will help prevent loss of its medicinal properties when it’s cooked. Eating garlic raw when you can is ideal, added to salad dressings, dips and bruschetta. Garlic is so versatile it can be used in many dishes including pasta sauces, lentil dahls, curries, stir-fries, soups, and homemade garlic bread.
Maintaining good gut health is vitally important when it comes to immune health. Not only is the gut our first line of defence against pathogenic microbes, but 80% of our immune cells lie within the gut walls.
We have around 500 different species of bacteria that live in our bodies, a majority of them live in the gut. We need a healthy balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ gut bacteria for good health and a strong functioning immune system. Fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir, kvass, miso, kombucha and sauerkraut contain beneficial bacteria that help promote a healthy balance of these beneficial bacteria in the gut. The fermenting process also boosts foods digestibility and nutrient content. Fermented foods have traditionally been apart of most cultures around the world dating back to the Roman times. Including a variety of fermented foods in your diet daily is an excellent way to support immune and gut health and prevent pathogenic bacteria like candida from flourishing.
Some delicious ways to incorporate more fermented foods into your diet include adding natural yoghurt to Bircher or natural muesli, smoothies or salad dressings. Coconut yoghurt is a good dairy-free alternative that works well as a topping for healthy pancakes, scones and desserts. The beneficial bacteria present in unpasteurized miso are killed by prolonged cooking at high temperatures, so add miso to soups and other dishes just before removing them from the heat. Try making your own fermented vegetables, they are easy to make and much cheaper than store bought varieties. You only need to add a spoonful of fermented vegetables to salads, curries, dahl, or Buddha bowls to reap their fabulous health benefits.
Medicinal mushrooms like shiitake, reishi, maitake, turkey tail, chaga and corydyceps contain incredibly powerful immune-strengthening compounds that help bolster the immune system to improve the body’s ability to fight off infections. Medicinal mushrooms contain active compounds called beta-glucans that stimulate the immune system by enhancing macrophage and natural killer function, which play an important role in our immune system (2, 3).
Make sure you buy certified organic mushrooms as they can easily absorb whatever they are grown in, including chemical pesticides and herbicides.
Shiitake and maitake can be enjoyed in soups, stews and stir-fries. Turkey tail, reishi, chaga and cordyceps on the other hand are not ideal for cooking and are best taken as a powder used to supercharge smoothies, veggie juices, coffee, hot chocolate or chai. You will find lion’s mane, cordyceps and chaga mushrooms in our Bodhi Hot ChocolaTEA.
Brassica vegetables such as kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts are high in antioxidant vitamins C and E, carotenoids, sulphur compounds and phytochemicals that all help maintain a strong functioning immune system. Studies have shown that brassica vegetables can stimulate the immune system and decrease the risk of cancer. (4)
Some great ways to enjoy brassicas includes adding raw shredded kale to salads. Massage your kale first for a few minutes with some olive oil and lemon juice to break down its tough fibres. Whole cauliflowers are delicious oven baked covered in spices. Cauliflower also makes a delicious gluten-free pizza base or rice alternative. Toss shredded cabbage through salads, make sauerkraut or healthy coleslaw. Brussel sprouts taste best when they’re pan-fried or roasted with spices and olive oil. Toss collard and mustard greens and arugula through salads for extra flavour.
Manuka honey, native to New Zealand, is known for its impressive antibacterial properties. Manuka has around 50 times the anti-microbial action compared to other honey varieties. Manuka contains the active compound methylglyoxal that gives this special honey its super antibacterial action.
Certain manuka bushes contain a ‘Unique Manuka Factor’ (UMF), which is a very effective antibacterial property unique to some Manuka honey. Look for a number from 10-20 after the letters UMF on Manuka honey labels. This will indicate its antibacterial strength. The higher the number the stronger its action.
Manuka is commonly used for wound healing and sore throats. It’s antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties makes Manuka beneficial for enhancing our immune defences. Manuka is particularly soothing for sore throats and is delicious added to ginger tea. UMF is heat stable so it won’t be easily destroyed when added to hot drinks.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) has been a much loved staple in Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine for thousands of years. Turmeric contains a powerful antioxidant called curcumin which gives turmeric its anti-inflammatory, anti-cancerous and immune-boosting properties. Studies have shown that curcumin can modulate the activation of immune cells and can enhance antibody responses. (5)
The best way to eat turmeric is raw grated through vegetables, rice or quinoa, in salad dressings, curries and veggie juices. When you mix turmeric with some black pepper it increases curcumin’s absorption significantly. You will find this beneficial spice in our turmeric & collagen latte powder Bodhi Organic LuminosiTEA and Bodhi Organic ZesTEA.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is one of the most popular cooking spices used throughout the world. Ginger has been traditionally used by Chinese herbalists for over 2,500 years to treat colds and flu and digestive problems.
Gingerol is the main bioactive compound found in ginger which is responsible for much of its immune-boosting benefits. Gingerol has powerful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-cancerous properties. Ginger also helps support the immune system through its antibacterial action. Ginger is a great addition to winter meals to enhance the body’s ability to fight off respiratory infections.
Adding fresh grated or powdered ginger to your next soup, curry, stir-fry, veggie juice or salad dressing is a delicious way to boost your immunity. Our Bodhi Organic ZesTEA is a delicious way to enjoy ginger (with lemongrass, turmeric, lemon balm and lemon myrtle).
Green teas immune benefits have been well known for centuries in Eastern cultures. Green tea’s immune boosting effects have been attributed to the presence of high levels of polyphenols, called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which have potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancerous properties. According to new research these beneficial compounds have the ability to increase the number of T-cells that play a key role in our immune function and suppression of autoimmune disease. (6) Drinking 3 or more cups of Bodhi Organic ViridiTEA daily can help support healthy immune function.
Seaweed is a highly nutritious superfood known for their immune boosting properties. Including seaweed in the diet can help increase white blood cell production and reduce the risk of cancer. Seaweed is also rich in minerals, particularly zinc, iron and selenium, which are essential for a strong functioning immune system.
There are many different types of seaweed including kelp, nori, and arame, that can be used to make nori rolls, miso soup, stir-fry’s, and added to fermented veggies. Seaweed flakes are a great way to supercharge pasta sauces and other winter dishes.
BERRIES & CITRUS FRUITS
Berries and citrus fruits are packed with immune boosting vitamin C and phytochemicals. This potent antioxidant is one of our most effective immune enhancers, having potent anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. Immune cells such as T-cells and phagocytes need vitamin C to work optimally to protect us from pathogenic invaders. Vitamin C also supports the functioning of the epithelial barrier of the skin and gastrointestinal tract, against viruses and bacteria. A deficiency in this important vitamin will lead to impaired immunity and a higher susceptibility to colds and flu and other infections.
Berries contain some of the highest levels of antioxidants of all fruit and vegetables, especially those with dark-coloured skins such as blueberries, black berries, black current, elderberries and ‘purple berries’ maquai and acai. Their vibrant red, blue and purple colours signify the presence of an important group of antioxidants called anthocyanins, that give berries their anti-cancerous and immune-enhancing properties.
Blueberries, raspberries, black berries and strawberries are delicious added to muesli, Bircher, porridge, smoothies and smoothie bowls, yoghurt, homemade ice cream, salads, and raw desserts. Dried berries make a tasty addition to trail mixes, and super berry powders (maquai, acai and camu camu) can give your smoothies, veggie juices or bliss balls an added boost.
The flesh and peel of citrus fruits are particularly rich in protective flavonoids that have a strong antioxidant action which supports the immune system and lowers the risk of cancer.
Citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, grapefruits and limes can best be enjoyed on their own or added to breakfast cereals, salads, raw deserts, veggie juices, salad dressings, or squeezed over salads, fish and veggie dishes. Give sweet and savoury dishes an extra immune boost by topping them with citrus zest.
The best way to protect yourself this winter from colds and flu and other infections is to start incorporating a variety of these super immune-strengthening foods and herbs into your daily diet. Start experimenting in the kitchen with new nourishing recipes and herbal teas that use these healthful ingredients. You should always try were you can to get all of your nutrients through wholefoods, however nutritional supplements can be extremely beneficial to complement a healthy diet. Nutritional supplements can help correct any nutritional deficiencies and will ensure that you are getting optimal levels of all the crucial immune-boosting vitamins and minerals you need for a strong functioning immune system.
By Lisa Guy, naturopath and founder of Bodhi Organic Tea.