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While there isn’t a silver bullet to ward off chronic diseases or acute illnesses, aiming to keep your body well-nourished can support healthy immune function and your body’s ability to cope with added stress.
Over the years, the scientific community learned more about the important role gut bacteria plays in our overall health. And since 70 percent of immune cells are located in the gut, it’s especially important to prioritize gut health. Reach for yogurt, kefir, kombucha, or sauerkraut to encourage healthy bacteria, or probiotics, to populate in the digestive tract.
Spinach is chockfull with a plethora of antioxidants, phytochemicals, and minerals. Popeye was doing his body right when he ate spinach to replenish his superhuman strength! All of these antioxidants and nutrients in leafy green vegetables work together to fend off disease. Adding leafy green vegetables to your daily diet is an excellent way to promote optimal long term health. A one-cup serving of uncooked greens contains about 25 calories, but loads of benefits!
A member of the ginger family, turmeric is perhaps the most celebrated spice in the scientific community for its health benefits. These benefits explain the explosion of turmeric supplements in our grocery stores and recipes for golden milk on our Instagram feeds. Curcumin, a naturally occurring phytochemical found in turmeric, is responsible for the spice’s characteristic yellow color and its health benefits, such as boosting immune cell activity. Add a pinch of black pepper to your recipes that contain turmeric to help increase the bioavailability of curcumin.
Vitamin D is available in a few food sources. Most people get some of their needed vitamin D intakes through sun exposure, but its effectiveness can depend on the season, location, time of day, and even air quality. Mushrooms exposed to light, like shitake, maitake, or portabella, can actually be a good source of this powerful immunity-boosting vitamin. Additionally, plant-based milk and dairy products are most often fortified with vitamin D and are the primary source of this vitamin in the U.S. diet. Reach for these when blending up a smoothie or smoothie bowl.
Zinc is an important micronutrient with roles in the immune system, and zinc deficiency has been linked with impaired immune function. While animal sources, such as red meat, poultry, and seafood, offer better bioavailability of this micronutrient, you can also find zinc in plant-based sources, such as beans and seeds. Soaking and sprouting plant sources can increase the body’s ability to absorb zinc from them, so try soaking rinsed chickpeas or pumpkin seeds in a clean jar, loosely covered for a several hours before using in recipes.
Antioxidants are compounds that help slow damage caused by unstable molecules in our bodies. The powerful antioxidant, vitamin C, is famous for its role in immune function. Cooking fruits and veggies for too long can reduce the vitamin C content. Also, cooking them in water will allow vitamin C to leach out. Therefore, these fruits and veggies are ideal when eaten fresh, while all the vitamin C content is still intact.
Orange fruits and vegetables are sources of beta-carotene, which are then synthesized into this important immune-boosting vitamin. Vitamin A helps to maintain the structure of cell walls, which plays an essential role in the body’s first line of defense.
Almonds, sunflower seeds, and peanuts are all go-to sources for vitamin E, another powerful antioxidant that is important in reducing inflammation. In fact, on our website, those recipes listed as “Immune Boosting” offer a hearty amount of antioxidants per serving.
Incorporate these ingredients into some of your daily recipes to give your body an added layer of defense.
This bright orange smoothie delivers an energizing lift, whether you’re feeling under the weather or on top of the world.
Once blended, warm this shake over medium heat on the stovetop. Made with warming turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger, this beverage feels like a hug in a cup.
With more than 100 percent of your daily needs for vitamin C, this bright smoothie delivers important antioxidants to keep your immune system strong.
McKenzie is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, nutrition writer and communicator, who truly loves meeting and connecting with people. Grounded in science with an integrative and holistic approach, she aims to make the world a healthier, happier place by helping people feel their best from the inside out and encouraging others to restore a judgment-free relationship with food. McKenzie has been a contributing editor for the award-winning publicationEnvironmental Nutrition and her numerous articles, nutrition tips, and recipes can be found in publications such as The Chicago Tribune, Today’s Dietitian, Food and Nutrition Magazine, and more.
McKenzie graduated magna cum laude from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo with a degree in Nutrition and completed her dietetic internship at Bastyr University in Seattle. She is a member of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a member of the dietetic practice group, Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine. When she’s not dishing out nutrition tidbits, you can find McKenzie cooking in her sunny kitchen, hiking along with her favorite Southern California trails, or packing her bags and heading out for her next adventure.