TOP 10 IMMUNE BOOSTING FOODS FOR WINTER

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Now is the time to take action on your winter immune-boosting program. Many foods support a healthy immune system, especially fruit and vegetables. Here are my top 10 foods to eat regularly to supercharge your immune system and help protect you from catching a cold or flu. And if you already have one, they will help speed your recovery.

Sometimes we need a reminder of how effective our foods as medicines really are! 

 

1. CITRUS

Citrus such as lemons, limes, mandarins, oranges and grapefruit are an excellent source of vitamin C which helps maintain the body’s defense against bacterial infections. Lemons obviously provide a good hit of vitamin C (you can meet half your daily requirement from one fruit) so adding lemon juice to your meals is an easy way to protect yourself against colds and other infections. 

Try to include the zest of citrus where possible. Lemon zest is delicious over salads or vegetables or added to slow cooked casseroles during winter. It's also great at stimulating digestion and breaking down mucous.

 

2. BERRIES

Berries are rich in vitamin C and bioflavonoids, that work as antioxidants and prevent injury to cells. Just one cup of strawberries contains as much as 100 mg of Vitamin C, which is more than double the recommended daily intake. Dark berries such as blueberries are especially high in bioflavonoids.

For an optimal immune system boosting effect, eat a bowl of mixed berries rather than just one type.

 

3. LEAFY GREENS

It's no co-incidence that leafy greens are in season during winter! A natural source of antioxidants and rich in many potent, immune enhancing phytochemicals (plant compounds) that gives them the much-needed virus protection at this time of year. 

Enjoy a side salad of greens with your warming slow cooked meat or veggie dish for a perfect immune boosting winter meal. Home-made kale pesto with lots of garlic and onion is also a delicious way to include fresh, in-season greens. 

 

4. TURMERIC

This golden yellow, slightly bitter rhizome owes its long list of health properties to the active ingredient, curcumin. Anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial, means that turmeric is perfect for treating congestion associated with respiratory infections. 

Also detoxifying and amazing for digestive health, curcumin has been used for many years to treat inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and asthma. Research shows that high concentrations of curcumin, can also help decrease exercise-induced muscle damage.

You can use it dried and ground, or buy fresh and finely grate it into your cooking. Add to a delicious winter curry or drop by Health Bar Melbourne for a warming turmeric latte. 

 

5. GINGER

Studies have shown that ginger has potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. It contains immune-system-supporting compounds like beta-carotene and can help reduce cellular damage and inflammation associated with a sore throat. Also used to treat nausea and it has been shown to have beneficial effects on heart disease due to it's potential cholesterol-lowering properties.

Use lots of freshly grated ginger in a tofu stir-fry or sip it in your immune boosting tea.

 

6. PAPAYA

Loaded with vitamin C, you can find 200 percent of your daily recommended amount of vitamin C in a single papaya. Also high in beta-carotene (a precursor to Vitamin A) means papaya supports the function of a healthy immune system, helping to prevent colds, flu and recurrent ear infections. The enzyme papain found in papaya is anti-inflammatory to help reduce mucous production, and to top it off, is also wonderful for digestion. Also super high in potassium and B vitamins. 

My favourite way to enjoy papaya is fresh with a squeeze of lime over the top, or in an almond milk smoothie. 

 

7. GARLIC

Garlic’s immune-boosting properties come from a heavy concentration of sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin. It's believed that allicin works by blocking enzymes involved in infections, thereby preventing and shortening the duration of colds and flu.

Add garlic to lots of cooking for a daily immune boost (and flavour!); roasted vegetables, marinades and dressings, lentil dahl, vegetable curry dishes and grain bowls. 

To increase the immune boosting benefits of garlic:

  • Crush or slice your garlic before you eat it. This increases the allicin content.
  • Before you cook with your crushed garlic, let it stand for 10 minutes.
  • Use lots of it! — more than one clove per meal, if you can.

 

8. SHITAKE MUSHROOMS

All mushrooms, but especially shitake, maitake, and reishi, are amazing immune boosters because of their antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-tumor effects.  They are a perfect food for helping fend off colds, flu, and other infections.

Use them in cooking like a normal mushroom. They are highly nutritious and can be used in omelettes, stir frys or cooked on their own with lots of garlic.

 

9. PUMPKIN SEEDS

Pumpkin seeds (pepitas) are a rich source of zinc, important for immunity by helping to support the function of neutrophils and natural killer cells. They are also antimicrobial and high in powerful fat-soluble antioxidants, such as carotenoids and tocopherols, which help to maintain the integrity of mucous membranes by protecting them from harmful free radicals. 

They are also high in magnesium and are one of the best sources of plant-based omega-3s (alpha-linolenic acid or ALA). The humble little pumpkin seed is also beneficial for sleep, mood, sense of taste and smell, eye and skin health, insulin regulation, muscle growth and repair and male and female fertility.

Eat them raw, soak for added bioavailability (meaning we can absorb their goodness), lightly roast them or grind and add to baking.

 

10. CHICKEN SOUP

The mixture of hydrating broth, healing herbs, fiber, protein and antioxidants makes chicken soup a therapeutic meal when you have a cold or flu. Soup in general hydrates, making it a good pick when you’re sick. Turns out this age old remedy has some science behind it: chicken soup helps to thin nasal mucus so it can clear more easily. Grandma knew best!

Simmer up your own home-made soup and add nutrient-dense foods like carrots, onions, garlic and lots of fresh herbs.

 

THE ULTIMATE COLD AND FLU BOMB

A medicinal tea that's warming (hello chilli, cloves and ginger) and provides the perfect immune support. Can also be taken when a respiratory infection has hit - it helps relieve symptoms and shorten the duration and severity of a cold or flu. Great for easing congestion!

  • 2 tsp fresh ginger – grated or chopped finely
  • 1 qtr lemon (skin on)
  • 1 cinnamon stick or ½ tsp cinnamon powder
  • 6 cloves
  • ¼ tsp fresh chopped chilli (or dried chilli flakes)
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and gently crushed
  • 500 ml of water

Add all ingredients to a saucepan and bring to the boil. Turn down and simmer gently for a good 5-10 minutes to make a more potent brew.

Strain the tea into your favourite cup, add a squeeze of lemon, a teaspoon of Manuka honey (also antibacterial and antiviral) and drink it warm.

 

Jen Kellett