5 Superfoods To Effectively Boost Your Immunity

  • 7 Mins Read
  • Nutrition
  • Written by: Jillian Lai Mei Siew
boost your immune system

Superfoods to boost immunity

An acute bout of flu makes you switch to healthy soups for immediate comfort. Your doctor advises you to eat more fruits, vegetables, and home-cooked meals. Everyone knows that a healthy diet aids in faster recovery and healing. The immune system works efficiently when all the lifestyle components are in perfect balance.

Our food has a remarkable impact on our health and our susceptibility to diseases. No wonder approximately 30 per cent of all cancers have their origins in poor diet. Specific foods can benefit your health in each domain-from keeping your gut microbiome diverse to stocking you up with essential nutrients and helping you to ward off infections. They are superfoods.

Superfoods for healthy living

Superfoods are ancient foods celebrated for their nutritional, medicinal, and well-being properties. Just like the compassionate and wise elderly members of our family, these superfoods not only stood the test of time, they also coexisted with other plants and developed a symbiotic relationship with their environment keeping everyone happy and sustainable.

Eat them to satiate your palate, and they will bless you with nutrients and nutraceuticals. They lend themselves to traditions and rituals and simultaneously bring prosperity and wealth to those who cultivate them. Utilize these superfoods in every possible form- food and nourishment for the body, medicine to prevent and cure diseases, and flavor and aroma to savor.

Of course, these superfoods cannot directly and solely treat COVID-19, diabetes, or osteoporosis. However, when you empower your diet with these powerful superfoods rich in vitamins and minerals, your body is better prepared to fight off anything that may come in its way. As you get older, your immune response gradually begins to decline (read more on this topic in ‘stay active as you age’).

Thus, it becomes crucial that every meal you eat include such immunity-boosting foods to maintain a healthy and intact immune system and nurture your health.

Foods that boost your immune system

Here are five superfoods to strengthen your immune system and benefit your health:

1. Garlic

Our gut gives shelter to more than 100 million bacteria. These bacteria constitute our gut microbiome, and every human being has a unique one. Our gut microbiome ecosystem varies with region, climate, genetics, and diet. Our poor lifestyle compromises the health of these symbiotic partners inside our body which automatically compromises our ability to absorb nutrients from food, thus weakening our immune system.

Foods that nourish and maintain the health of gut bacteria are called prebiotics. These are often fiber-rich foods that promote the growth of good microorganisms, unlike probiotics that are live bacterial cultures themselves. Thus, prebiotics support probiotics in their endeavor to keep our immune system robust and healthy.

Garlic is one such miraculous prebiotic that is a go-to herb to enhance the flavor and aroma of food, prevent and cure diseases, smoothens digestion, and boosts the immune system. In short, garlic is a super food for super health.

Garlic contains a bioactive called allicin that has been shown in clinical studies to increase immune T cells and natural killer cells. Aged garlic extract supplements can significantly reduce the severity of cold and flu symptoms probably due to good immune performance and less accompanying inflammation.

So, the next time you catch a flu, cook yourself a hearty soup with a few cloves of garlic and garnish it with coriander, pepper, and garlic leaves. Functional food is healthy and fun.

2. Mushrooms
Mushrooms are underrated fungi rich in beta-glucan, a soluble fiber that can empower our immune system to combat attacks from bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections. Oats are other functional foods rich in beta-glucan. Our understanding of health benefits of mushrooms is continuously evolving, as more of their potential immune-boosting effects are becoming evident.

Read more about health benefits of mushrooms in ‘make mushrooms a part of your diet’.

Dietary intake of white button mushrooms reportedly increases the level of protective immune antibodies IgA (immunoglobulin A) in our bodies. These IgA antibodies are secreted as the first line of defense at mucosal surfaces such as saliva, tears, nose, stomach, cervix, and inside lungs to fight against infections. The risk of infections increases when our immune system is unable to produce enough IgA. Thus, mushrooms are immune strengthening foods with potential health benefits.

Mushrooms have a considerable impact on the development, differentiation, and proliferation of many kinds of immune cells in our body. Based on the above evidence, scientists and nutrition experts are exploring whether mushrooms can impact immune response against the COVID-19 vaccine.

Once affirmed that mushrooms can assist vaccines in performing better, we would require to keep mushroom recipe books handy and upgrade our diverse stocks of mushrooms around the time of vaccination

3. Turmeric

Turmeric is a yellow-colored spice obtained from the roots of Curcuma longa plant and is commonly used in the Indian subcontinent and Africa for health benefits, food preservation, and as a yellow dye for textiles. The spice is cultivated most extensively in Asia, Africa, and America.

Turmeric is appreciated in every Sri Lankan kitchen for its subtle flavor, distinct color, and powerful aroma. However, the cultivation of turmeric stopped during the Sri Lankan civil war, and the country had to depend on imported turmeric. With the efforts of government and non-profit organizations, farmers in Sri Lanka have started growing turmeric again.

Curcumin is the active ingredient responsible for all the miraculous healing properties of turmeric.

Curcumin protects against cancer, diabetes, allergies, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and other chronic diseases. Turmeric promotes the functions of the immune system in our body and regulates the production of various transcription factors, growth factors, inflammatory cytokines, and other enzymes. In Sri Lanka, the Gonagala variety of turmeric contains a high proportion of curcumin and is locally used to treat arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. Gonagala turmeric has an intense yellow color, and only a tiny amount is needed for cooking.

Similarly, turmeric is celebrated for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory potential in Nigeria, and people consume turmeric to cure digestive ailments. Recently, scientists in Nigeria reported healing and pain-relieving properties of Shea nut oil, ginger, and turmeric extracts for joint pains. Recently discovered drugs like Herceptin, Remicade, or Gefitinib inhibit specific inflammatory pathways, while curcumin acts as the multitargeted magic bullet that inhibits all these pathways and more in various infections and chronic illnesses.

4. Millets

Millets are ancient grains that are now considered an indispensable part of a nourishing diet. Millets are a rich reserve of vitamins, minerals, and fibers essential for overall nutrition and health. After India and China, Nigeria is the 3rd largest millet-producing country in the world. Millets are commonly used to make breads, porridge, and millet juice, widely known as kunu in Nigeria. Other delicacies contributing to typical Nigerian meals include fura, millet pap (weaning food for babies), millet fufu, and acha.

Several health benefits are associated with the consumption of millets, primarily due to the bioactive nutrients found in these ancient grains, such as lignans, flavonoids, phenolics, beta‐glucan, sterols, and dietary fiber. In Sri Lanka, finger millet is usually cultivated in the dry regions.

Finger millet balls (kurakkan thalapa) is a traditional recipe made by slowly adding finger millet flour to hot water until it becomes hardened and then shaped into balls. These millet balls are eaten with scrumptious vegetarian or non-vegetarian curries for a hearty, healthy meal.

Millets benefit patients with diabetes, hypertension, asthma, migraine, cardiovascular diseases, and the immune system. Millet‐based foods can act as both prebiotics and probiotics with significant health benefits owing to their fiber‐rich content.

For more information about millets read ‘how ancient grains help build immunity’.

5. Nuts

Nuts refer to dry fruits with one seed, and the walls of the fruits become hard as they mature. Nuts contain high amounts of proteins, fats, and nutrients. The FDA recommends daily consumption of 42 g of assorted nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, pines, and walnuts to prevent heart diseases and infections.

Nuts provide dietary fibers, vitamins (e.g., folic acid, niacin, vitamin E, vitamin B6), minerals (e.g., copper, magnesium, potassium, zinc), and many health-promoting nutrients such as antioxidants, phytosterols, and other phytochemicals.

Nuts are excellent immunity-boosters consumed worldwide in various forms-curries, salads, smoothies, snacks, desserts, spreads (peanut butter, almond paste), oils, or raw whole intact nuts (fresh or roasted).

Conclusion

We live in a planet of diversity. Since all infections and illnesses are multifactorial, we need a multifactorial but holistic approach to boost our immune functions and health.

A perfect example is our gut that inhabits millions of different colonies of bacteria to keep our body functions normal. Different foods have distinct therapeutic benefits against the multitudes of germs that infect us and give us diseases. Thus, your food plate must have diverse colors, textures, nutrients, and superfoods.

Eat superfood for super health. Eat smart, stay active, sleep properly, and practice mindfulness!

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