Can Food Really Boost Your Immune System?

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I am a person who rarely gets sick.  I like to think it is because of the way I eat: little to no processed foods, lots of seasonal vegetables and fruits, whole grains, etc.  Almost all my meals come out of my kitchen which means they use a minimal amount of sugar and salt while maintaining great flavor.

And then I got the flu.

There actually is a test you can take for the flu, and as I crawled my way to the doctor, I almost told him to not bother, I knew what I had.  This was no ordinary cough and sniffle. This illness dominated every area of my body. Just FYI, because everyone asks me this: no, I did not get the flu shot this year (it hasn’t been very effective anyway) and yes, I was surrounded by a lot of coughing, sneezing individuals.

I had a few moments of disbelief because, after all, I pride myself on my mantra “I do not get sick”.  Well, clearly I did get sick.  And I reminded myself that, with even the best of intentions, all of us can get our immune systems knocked down at one time or another.

So, does the food you eat really matter?

Our complex immune systems do an amazing job of keeping us protected from the outside world. The key is to keep your  immune system in the best shape possible. The internet is abuzz with articles on the top foods to eat, or the best juice cleanses to make your immune system ready for cold and flu season. There are also a growing number of supplements that you might have seen that claim to help boost your immune system. So, what are we to do?

Here is the lowdown on what works and what doesn’t, along with my top suggestions of what you can do right now to stay our healthiest this winter.

Do these pills even do anything?
Do these pills even do anything?

Be Wary Of These

Supplements.  Immune boosting blends of vitamins, minerals and strange sounding herbs dominate the shelves of supplement shops.  Yes, certain vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamins C and Zinc, have a decent reputation for helping to fight colds.  There are some herbs too, such as echinacea, ginseng, garlic and elderberry that have shown some evidence of reducing the duration (not the prevention) of colds.  Yet, supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so this billion dollar industry is free to add in what they will to their potions and elixirs.  Quality and quantity are always in question and too much of a supplement can have detrimental effects. Many herbs and vitamins can have side effects, or have no scientific backing.  I am not a big advocate of supplements (I will be writing about that in a future post) and rely on getting my nutrients from food. 

Detox Diets. It is January, we have all rattled our immune systems to some extent with the holidays, and you might be ready to kick start yourself with a 5-day juice cleanse.  If you think that drinking only juice will boost your energy and get your natural defenses powered up, think again.  It is appealing to consider that we can cleanse ourselves of all our toxins, and we receive messages daily on how we are being bombarded by chemicals from plastics, food, and our environment.  I have written about why I don’t believe in detox diets, click HERE to read. 

Say YES To These!

Have you tried purple cauliflower?
Have you tried purple cauliflower?

Real Food.  Our immune system begins in our digestive tract so it makes sense to keep it running smoothly. Let’s back up to what we know.  Our bodies are meant to eat real food, not junky, chemical laden processed foods jacked up with obscene amounts of sugar, salt, fat and flavors. Whole grains, lots of vegetables and fruits, healthy fats such as avocado and olive oil, great proteins such as salmon and beans is always your best bet. But are there specific foods that boost your immune system? To help your immune system work at its best, I try to emphasize these foods daily.

  • Citrus Fruits. Organges, grapefruit, lemon, limes
  • Dark Leafy Greens. Kale, mustard greens, collard greens, arugula
  • Herbs and Spices. Garlic, turmeric, oregano, basil, pepper, ginger, cinnamon
  • Fermented Foods. Kefir, sauerkraut, miso,
  • Tea. Green tea, black tea, mint tea
  • Berries. Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries
  • Cruciferous Veggies. Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower
  • Winter Squash. Pumpkin, butternut squash, acorn squash

Wash Your Hands, Get Good Sleep, Stress Less.  These might be obvious but it is amazing how often we neglect these basic tasks. Let’s start with the basics: be vigilant about washing your hands, especially around people who are sneezing and coughing.  Winter is the ideal time to rest, hibernate and catch up on much needed sleep.  Our immunes systems will definitely be compromised without ideal sleep.  And make it a priority this year to get your stress levels in check. We can eat all the organic food in the world and drink green drinks until the cows come home but if we don’t have these three buttoned up, you are setting yourself up for flus and cold.

Now I would like to hear from you.  What tricks do you have up your sleeve to prevent yourself from getting sick this season?  Share with us below!