Stress, work, a change in weather, travelling, life… are all great excuses for that virus or bacteria to sneak past your lowered defences and wreck havoc in your body. Taking extra vitamin C and having that bottle of Echinacea at hand might be a good idea, but don’t overlook the power of food as your medicine! Here are some great immune boosting foods:
- Garlic – Lightly crushing releases its active constituent ‘allicin’ which has superb antimicrobial (antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral) properties. Garlic is also a warming food, great addition for the cold. Best eaten raw as heat destroys the allicin but not many can tolerate the pungency so just add a couple more cloves into your stir-fry or stew!
- Mushrooms (Shitake, Maitake, Reishi) – Mushrooms are in fact one of the best immune-modulators out there. Immune modulators do exactly just that. They modulate or regulate your immune system. If your immunity is low, they help give it it a boost and conversely, if you have an overactive immune system eg: autoimmune disease, immune-modulators tell your immune cells to calm down. In addition, these culinary mushrooms are great antibacterial and antiviral agents.
- Ginger – A very energetically warming food with antibacterial and strong anti-inflammatory properties. If you must have a breakfast smoothie, you can offset the ‘cooling’ nature by adding a slice of ginger to your drink. Another great way to make use of fresh ginger is to boil a couple of slices in water, sweeten to taste and you get your very own ginger tea.
- Curcumin – Also known as Tumeric, this commonly used spice in curries is a fantastic anti-inflammatory. It does however also possess antioxidant and antibacterial properties. In Ayurvedic medicine, it is used to treat coughs, sore throats, digestive problems and to improve circulation.
- Coconut oil – Having suffered for a long time with a ‘bad rep’, coconut oil could be touted to be the next miracle food. With a long list of medicinal properties, being a great antimicrobial with antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties is just one of them. The constituent responsible for this is lauric acid which on a side note, is found in breast milk as well. This is partly how babies with immature immune systems get by in this microbe-infested world! Coconut oil is great in salads or use it while cooking!
- Cabbage – Believe it or not, cabbage has high amounts of the immune boosting Vitamin C. Red cabbage contains anthocyanins which is what contributes to its red/purplish color, a similar constituent in berries. Anthocyanins are fantastic antioxidants with anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
- Leeks – A sibling to garlic and onions, the organosulphur compounds in leeks are responsible for its similar immune boosting and anti-cancer properties. Makes great additions to stews!
- Sweet potatoes – The darker the sweet potato, the higher the content of carotenes. Sweet potatoes are high in beta carotenes – the precursor to Vitamin A which is one of the main anti-oxidants needed by your body. This delicious root vegetable also contains a considerable amount of Vitamin C. On a side note, root vegetables tend to possess a ‘grounding’ nature.
- Manuka honey – Derived from the manuka bushes in New Zealand, Manuka honey certainly hasn’t received the attention it deserves. High in ‘Unique Manuka Factor’, Manuka honey strongly inhibits bacterial growth along with its internal and topical healing properties. It also has anti-tussive (cough suppressant) properties, making it a safe and effective alternative to over-the-counter cough syrups.
- Fermented foods – Miso, tempeh, kimchi, sauerkraut, natto, kefir, kombucha might ring a bell. You might be thinking what on earth have these foods got to do with boosting my immunity? Well, our digestive system is hugely correlated with our immune system. A poor digestive system predisposes our bodies to greater inflammation and further down the road, a multitude of diseases may plague us. Fermented foods are fantastic sources of healthy bacteria which are required for proper and essential digestive tract function. To clarify, Kefir is similar to yoghurt but has a much higher content of healthy bacteria. Furthermore, unless you are making your own yoghurt, commercially bought yoghurt tends to be filled with sugar and artificial sweeteners. Always check the ingredients. There you have it, fermented foods have everything to do with the immune system!
Now that you’ve been informed, there is no excuse to not be using these great additions to your cooking! Remember, food as medicine!
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
By Dr. Oon Zhi Hong
Dr. Oon is born and raised in Singapore. He attained his Naturopathic Medical degree from Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington. He practices with a clinical focus on treating mental health and chronic disease whilst incorporating various mind-body therapies such as Biofeedback, Clinical Hypnotherapy, Craniosacral Therapy and Mindfulness-Based techniques.