It’s cold and flu season and that means it’s time to give our immune systems a little more attention and care. It’s always a good idea to wash your hands frequently, use tissues, and get your shots, but there’s no harm in tweaking your diet to include foods that may give your leukocytes a leg up too. Here are seven foods that do just that!
We’ve all heard that garlic can help stave off a cold, but do you ever question why? Garlic contains sulphuric compounds with antibacterial properties so eating it can help fight bacterial infections. The downside is that cooking garlic breaks down these compounds rendering them less effective. Fortunately there are lots of ways to eat raw garlic including guacamole, caesar salad, and pill form.
Another old staple of immune efficiency, vitamin C has been found to enhance the activity of our natural killer cells. Citrus fruits like oranges are packed with vitamin C and thanks to old some holiday traditions, you can buy them by the box in the wintertime when your immune system needs the most attention.
Not technically a food, but still important. Hydration makes everything better. Our bodies are comprised mostly of water and on a cellular scale, that water keeps everything lubricated and flowing in an orderly fashion. When your cells are low on water it compromises their structure, making it easier for viruses to slip through the cell wall and start wreaking havoc. Start each day with a glass of water and remember to keep it up all day long. If you find water a bit bland for your taste, juices and caffeine free tea are a more flavourful way to get your fluids. A good way to tell if you are well hydrated is to check the colour of your urine. The more clear it is, the better hydrated you are.
4) Flax Seeds
Flax is high in zinc which is great for your cellular mediators. Zinc deficiency has been shown to reduce the innate immunity of cells by impairing phagocytosis, the process by which white blood cells ingest and destroy pathogenic material in the bloodstream. Phagocytosis is the same process that normal tissue cells use to take in nutrients, so keeping your zinc levels within the recommended parameters has the double benefit of powering up your immune system and keeping your cells nourished.
If you’ve ever seen a Popeye comic, you know that spinach is high in iron. Iron is essential in carrying oxygen to your cells. Without oxygen your cells can’t create and use energy and if they can’t do that they certainly can’t fight disease. This is especially important for white blood cells, which expend lots of energy chasing down and fighting pathogens. Spinach is high in zinc too which as we’ve mentioned, is also good for white blood cells.
We’ve all seen the yogurt commercials telling us how important it is to have probiotic bacteria in our guts. According to these 30 second marketing tools, probiotics can help you lose weight or something. They usually include images of skinny ladies doing yoga so they must be legit. The truth is that probiotic bacteria carry out a lot of functions in our bodies, including fighting bad bacteria and fungus. Unbalanced intestinal flora can lead to fungal yeast infections all over the body including the in the mouth, around the genitals, and even under the nails. You can keep these fungi at bay by eating fermented, probiotic containing foods like yogurt, kefir, and pickeled vegetables.
The name is similar to probiotics, but prebiotics are not bacteria. Rather, they are the food that probiotics eat. Bacteria are living organisms and they need energy just like you if they are going to fight off the bad bacteria. Prebiotic foods are foods that are high in soluble fibre like sweet potatoes and asparagus. When these fibres are broken down by our enzymes, the probiotic bacteria can metabolize them and then it’s time for any foreign microbes in your body to watch out!
There is little direct evidence linking any one particular food to increased immunity, but optimal cellular function and structure are the keys to reducing your risk of illness. It’s important to eat a variety of foods to ensure you are getting all the nutrients your cells need to operate at peak capacity and keep pathogens at bay. Eat up!