7 Key Superfoods to Boost Your Immunity
Every year tiny little invaders, germs, adapt new strategies on how to sneak past your defenses and settle in like unwanted visitors! Those germs come in, unpack, and eat all the food; not cool! OK, not really, but it can feel like that.
This tug of war has been going on for thousands of years. Germs try to move in. Humans try to keep them out. We do that by making our bodies such an inhospitable environment that germs keep moving along without a chance to move in. It is a little known reality of immunity: you have the ability to help your body shut out disease. Basically your body needs to put out a “No vacancy” sign to any germs you come into contact with.
This is the job your wonderful immune system performs, going to great lengths to make sure you are well prepared to face all the incoming attacks. Some get neutralized before coming in. Other germs do sneak in and wreak havoc, but it’s ok because your immune cells learn from their mistakes, remember, and adapt.
As your immune system works to protect your whole body, it involves tissues, organs, and cells throughout the whole body. It’s absolutely amazing when you study this system.
We still don’t know a lot about it, the perfect balance it maintains of patrolling, alerting, communicating, attacking, winning, ALL AT ONCE – and then doing it all over again – while we go about our day-to-day lives is AMAZING.
Although it goes about doing its job without you ever consciously directing it, you can help support it to work more efficiently during seasons when you know it gets assaulted more frequently, such as the flu season.
RELATED READING: Top 5 Tips For Staying Healthy During Flu Season
Your lifestyle strongly influences the immune response your body is capable of — including sleeping, stress levels, how active you are, your environment, and of course what you eat and drink, which all contribute to your defense mechanisms.
Eating foods that impact the immune system’s function is called immunomodulation. Superfoods do this very well, and I’d like to talk about some of my favorites. Here are seven foods to boost your immunity. I highly recommend you consider having them around to take your defense system up a notch.
If pathogenic viruses, bacteria, or fungi want to play rough, you should start fighting back with Chaga. Its broad range of beneficial effects on humans’ immunity is astounding to say the least. This mushroom adaptogen neutralizes viruses and bacteria by breaking up their communication lines, known as quorum sensing and boosts your own cells’ communication. It’s also full of antioxidants and regulates your body’s inflammatory response by regulating the secretion of key inflammatory mediator molecules.
See what I mean? It is incredible. One of the easiest ways to enjoy chaga is to make a tea, which I explain in this video.
RELATED VIDEO: How to Make Homemade Chaga Tea
This amazing spice is part of some of the world’s oldest and most medicinal cuisines. Indian, Arabic, and Chinese are just some of the most recognized. They used cloves for more than just the flavor and aroma. Cultures could sense the medicinal properties of cloves long before we had the science to prove it.
My first encounter with the actual fresh spice was in the jungles of Indonesia where it originated; I will never forget the aroma and the feeling it triggered in me. This made me wonder how potent it was so I started researching it.
Cloves are an amazing superfood. Some studies report it is the most potent antioxidant of all foods. Let that sink in.
Uncontrolled oxidation leads to cell damage and becomes hazardous to our overall health, including our immune response. Eating foods high in antioxidants can counteract this..
Cloves also have a strong antimicrobial affect as well as neutralizing aflatoxins, which are toxic compounds created by mold in foods. (It’s something quite prevalent, actually. A lot of foods we eat regularly have high levels of aflatoxins including coffee, teas, peanuts, peanut butters, and spices such as black pepper). Aflatoxins can damage cells – particularly in the liver. The liver secretes complementary proteins that enhance immunity, so when your liver’s function becomes compromised, your immunity is affected.
Also known as black cumin, this superfood is not as well-known as a common spice or supplement.. Common to the Indian subcontinent cuisine, it has mostly stayed local, not getting global attention like its more famous cousins, cinnamon and cardamom.
I read somewhere that nigella can cure everything except death. I wouldn’t go that far, but there is mounting amount of clinical trials pointing towards a variety of benefits from consuming this spice.
Nigella is naturally a good antioxidant and antimicrobial, but there are other just as good or more efficient superfoods, so what makes it so distinct? The immune effect it has in particular is unique.
Cytokines are molecular messengers secreted by immune cells to communicate with each other and the rest of the body, including the brain. Fevers for instance are a physical response to cytokines being secreted to turn up the heat and get the immune system into high gear. Nigella has been researched and found to have a regulatory effect on these molecules; in one study it was found to reduce the effect of pro-inflammatory ones. This is important because over-expression of inflammation leads to a depression in our immune function, not to mention a potential autoimmune response down the road.
Nigella also curbs your body’s inflammatory response by regulating the intermediate enzyme responsible for stimulating an inflammatory response.
Overall there are so many reasons to love Nigella.
The most potent and effective way to get benefits is to use the oil extracted from the seeds. Reminder: Use caution when introducing any new food or substance into your diet as there is always potential to develop an allergy to any food no matter how good it is for your body. Everybody’s system responds differently to different substances. Listen to your body and use caution when introducing Nigella into your diet if you have never tried it before as allergic reactions have been reported.
The oil can be used drizzled over your favorite salad or added as part of your shake or smoothie (Shakeology, anyone?).
People on blood pressure medication or pregnant women, avoid using this particular spice, as it’s not regarded as safe if these conditions are present. If you decide to try it, please buy the highest-quality, organic product available. It’s your health we are talking about here.
If you know me you should have guessed this superfood would appear any moment. I have a very special relationship with cacao. I eat it every day and can’t say enough about it.
Even though cacao’s taste is quite different than chocolate (which is made from cacao), it grows on you and you keep wanting more.
Cacao supports your heart health and has antioxidant benefits, but it is also a great immune system contributor.
Its richness in plant compounds such as flavanols influence the differentiation and multiplication of friendly gut bacteria that are your body’s great defender against viruses and bacteria that try to enter your body through food.
Cacao-rich diets have also been evaluated to induce changes in the cell composition of the primary and secondary lymphoid tissues. These tissues are responsible for the production, coordination, and differentiation of your body’s white blood cells.
In the thymus, also known as the “white blood cell university,” cacao increases your body’s natural antioxidants (catalase and SOD) while promoting the maturation of T cells.
All of the sudden a cacao smoothie like this one is becoming come interesting, if it wasn’t already, right? Cacao definitely earns its place as an immune-boosting superfood.
Do yourself a favor and get the real stuff. You can use cacao beans, nibs, powder or any other presentation, just make sure it’s organic and if possible Fair Trade. Unfortunately cacao plantations are plagued with mistreatment of their workers, but we can do something about it for the workers and for our health by choosing companies operating at high standards and displaying the Fair Trade Symbol on their packaging.
Like the rest of the superfoods in this list, Tulsi, as Holy Basil is also called, directly affects the cytokines (remember those molecular messengers?) increasing their numbers and effectiveness while also increasing your body’s amount of T-helper cells and NK cells.
This is great in and of itself, as we definitely want a high quantity and quality of immune cells. However I also like tulsi because it provides support from a different perspective, our body’s stress response.
Adaptogen is the term used to describe foods or herbs that ease the physical, emotional, and mental edge from the daily grind a.k.a. stress.
Tulsi can help deal with our daily stress doses and provide us with coping mechanisms on a biological level. You see stress is a necessary life-preserving response; it helped our ancestors deal with threats. When stress occurs, hormones are secreted to ignite the survival engines and get us out of danger, the issue is that today our “engine” for stress responses seems to be running all the time.
Think of tulsi as a regulator for that engines’ revolutions. It directly intervenes in the overproduction of cortisol. Unnecessary cortisol production is blocked at the hypothalamus where the primary signal of stress is generated, secondly when too much cortisol is already flowing in our bloodstream, tulsi blocks the receptors where cortisol docks, regulating its impact on our system in this way as well.
The power of nature’s pharmacy always keeps me in awe.
Our immune system can’t function effectively in an over-stressed environment, so tulsi tweaks the environment so that our defenses are more effective.
Tulsi is pretty straight forward to use. I would recommend an extract such as those offered by Gaia herbs and teas and use as indicated on the package. It is a can’t-miss immune supporter.
Well, well, well what do we have here? If it isn’t one of the most amazing berries from our own backyard that nobody ever told you about. We all have come to love berries in one form or another. They are pretty, taste good, and are so versatile that what is there not to love? In recent years the nutritional and medical establishments have blessed them as highly nutritious and medicinal, so there’s even more reason to celebrate and eat them.
There are hundreds of varieties of berries; almost every time I travel I run into a completely different one.
In America, blueberries have become a staple ‘antioxidant-rich food’ on most of our plates. However the Aronia berry (or otherwise known as ‘choke berry’) is long forgotten and needs a little bit more of our attention. It’s name, ‘Aronia,’ stems from it’s strong astringent flavor, meaning it’s not as sweet as our family favorite ‘blue berry’ and is most likely why it’s not as popular in the United States. Don’t get me started on our sweet tooth problem, that’s a whole other post I will have to save for a later date.
The reason for its unusual astringency is due to it’s extremely high levels of anthocyanin, also responsible for it’s almost black hue. Anthocyanin is the same compound found in blueberries, and most blue and purple pigmented frutis. But the amount found in aronia berries though can have up to 4 times more than blueberries.
Anthocyanins is a family of flavonoids that are bioactive with a strong antioxidant effect. All foods to a degree have antioxidant effects, but aronia is one of the richest sources of antioxidants.
Aronia is not a commercial crop, which is why there hasn’t been enough interest to look deeper into its health effects or a larger scale. One of the most intriguing research studies done that made me really take interest showed that aronia helps neutralize the impact of xenobiotics on our bodies.
Xenobiotics are the countless external compounds that we are exposed too every day: pesticides, smog, plasticizers, BPAs, heavy metals and on and on.
The research is conclusive and directly points to these compounds having a serious negative effect on human health. Immune suppression is among the effects they can have on our health, so it is important to introduce foods that counteract these effects when we are bombarded on a daily basis.
I recommend looking into www.organicaronia.com, a family-owned company specializing in nothing but Aronia berries. Let’s show them some love and get their product. They have a variety of presentations to choose from including dried berries to mix into your favorite trail mix, juice extract, or frozen berries to add to your smoothies. You can go all out and use them in a fermented beverage such as ginger bug or kombucha. Here is a cool link to a fermented soda recipe made with rose hips, but aronia could be used as well. Like all berries it’s limitless in the various ways you can use it.
In South Korea, the birthplace of this gift to humanity, there is a whole university dedicated to the research of the multitude of health benefits kimchi offers, along with other fermented foods. Before the convenience of electricity and refrigeration, we had fermentation to preserve food.
This amazing technology is making a huge comeback, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Oddly enough when I discuss fermented products we forget a wide variety of products around us that are the result of controlled fermentation, including cheese, wine, chocolate, coffee, olives and so on. Nevertheless these processes have been industrialized and we know what that means – faster, cheaper, and easier, which is not always a good thing.
But kichi fermented the traditional way is amazing.
Ginger, garlic, hot peppers, seasonal, organic, local veggies, and millions upon millions of friendly bacteria…yup, that sounds like a winner in my book, and it should in yours too. Think of kimchi as a winter vaccine. The high-quality, friendly bacteria in kimchi is a major boost to the immune functionality of your gut.
Make your own and you’ll also add another secret ingredient, which is your love while making it! It’s a win-win.
All these foods are powerful, immune-stimulating, and regulating in their own right. But this is by no means the final list or in any way a hierarchy of foods. I put this list together to provide some immediate ways you can jump start and maintain the highest expression of your immune system.
Thousands of years and multitudes of studies validate the incredible effect and safety of these superfoods; still, you are uniquely you, so listen to your body. If you are pregnant, lactating or suffer from any chronic disease, then seek medical advice first before adding anything new to your routine.
Start with small doses and work your way up as needed. These seven superfoods will boost your immune system and should be a part of your lifestyle in order for you to really reap the whole benefits and live your very own Superlife.
Let me know what superfoods you already take – or which ones you try! Join the conversation in the comments below.