This article was written by guest contributor, Rosemary Squires, MA, RD, CDN from thehintofrosemary.com.
We are all born with a specific set of genetics that tells our body how to respond to sickness and disease. It was once believed that some of us either got lucky and had a "strong" immune system, and others got "weaker" immune systems. However, what we now know with modern research is that while some people do in fact get sick less often, the majority of us can boost our immunity through our lifestyle choices.
While there are many things you can do to help strengthen your immunity, like getting enough sleep at night, exercise, and even meditation, I am going to focus on super foods for your immunity. Read on for my shopping list at the bottom!
What to Eat:
1. Fruits and Vegetables
These are #1 on my list because they are amazing for your immunity. (1,2) Make sure you eat a variety of fruits and vegetables in different colors, because the colors indicate what nutrients they have. For example, the powerful antioxidant known as beta carotene shows up as orange and can be found mainly in yellow, orange, and red produce.
My tip: Make sure you are eating every color of the rainbow!
2. Whole Grains
Gut health is one of the key players in a strong immune system. (3) Whole grains not only help to bind toxins and remove them from your system, but they are also necessary for good gut health. The friendly bacteria in our guts thrive off of high fiber foods. Some of my favorite whole grains are farro, tri-colored quinoa, and old fashioned oats.
My tip: Look for >3 grams of fiber on the label.
3. Beans & Legumes
Beans and legumes are an excellent source of fiber, phytochemicals, and protein. Phytochemicals help to protect our cells against damage. (4) Beans and legumes are one of the highest fiber foods you can eat, great for your gut health. Some of my favorite beans are chickpeas, black beans, and cannellini beans.
4. Healthy Fats
Healthy fats are protective to our cells, and help to lower inflammation in the body. (5) Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of fiber, healthy fats, and protein. Some of my favorites are Brazil nuts, cashews, chia seeds, and hemp seeds. Other great options for healthy fats are extra virgin unrefined olive oil (make sure it is in a dark container to protect against light damage), avocado oil, and salmon.
Turmeric has been used for thousands of years for a good reason! It is one of the most widely researched plant foods for its therapeutic properties. It helps to boost immunity by lowering inflammation and even fighting harmful pathogens. (6) Turmeric can be incorporated into your diet in a number of ways. Check out my recipe for this turmeric tea mix you can make at home!
My tip: Make sure to use turmeric with black pepper to increase absorption.
It’s okay if you don’t like some of these foods, or even a majority of them. If you choose just one single item off this list to eat more of, you are taking a step to strengthen your immunity. Taking supplements is also a great option if you aren’t getting the vitamins and minerals you need through your diet alone. One of my favorites is Binto.
Another thing to remember is to always stay hydrated. Your lymphatic system and gut play a huge role in your immune system and they need adequate fluids. Opt for plain water, or water infused with fruit. Sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened fluids can cause their own set of problems, and lowering immunity is only one of them.
What to Buy:
For those of you looking for more guidance on how to make the switch to an immunity-boosting diet, here is what I typically buy at the grocery store:
My Shopping List:
Lemons & limes
Leafy Greens (I love tuscan kale and chard)
Bananas (A great snack and also the base of all my smoothies)
Pick 5 others that you love!
Plain Green Yogurt (Amazing on tacos instead of sour cream)
Cashew or Soy Milk
Kombucha (Great for your gut health)
Frozen fruits and vegetables are an economical and nutrient rich option!
Wild caught sustainable salmon
Chia, hemp, or flax seeds
Olive or Avocado oil
Nutritional Yeast (tastes amazing on broccoli with salt & oil)
Old Fashioned or Steel Cut oats
What to Cook:
With more time spent at home, now is a great time to dust off those old cookbooks, or look at Pinterest and Instagram for recipe inspiration! One of my favorite cuisines to make is Mexican food! Not only is it super easy and versatile, Mexican food is rich in fibers from beans and healthy fats from avocados. Here are some meal ideas from my shopping list:
Breakfast: Overnight oats or Smoothies
Lunch: Leftovers from dinner or a kale quinoa salad
Dinner: Taco bowls, Salmon with Broccoli and Farro, Rainbow kale salad with chickpeas
There are choices you can make about the food you eat that affect your immune system. The three biggest points to take away are:
- Plant foods are the best! They have antioxidants and phytochemicals that are like gold for your body.
- Gut health is key! Look for fermented foods and high fiber foods to feed your good gut bacteria.
- Drink water! Water is absolutely necessary for a healthy body.