The Best Kind of Medicine: Foods To Boost The Immune System

As we say our goodbyes to summer and welcome the cooler months of fall and winter, something else that tends to make a less-than-welcome appearance this time of year is the cold-and-flu season. While we’re certainly not fans of the sniffles, we love cooler weather because it means we have more excuses to cozy down with a big bowl of soup or delicious broth! Luckily, as many of you know, soup and the common cold go hand in hand, but what you may not know is that soup, broth, and certain foods in general aren’t just soothing, they may actually help reduce symptoms and prevent illness by boosting your immune system!

Several cultures swear by chicken soup to nurse the sick back to health, and while of course it’s comforting to sip, science shows that chicken soup can actually aid in fighting infections. One notable study showed that chicken soup diminishes the presence of white blood cells associated with inflammation in upper respiratory conditions that often plague cold sufferers, suggesting that it encourages a more effective immune response and helps symptoms clear up quicker.

In a previous blog post, we talked about how in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), temperature plays a role in health and immunity. For example, if you “catch a cold” it could be because you were literally exposed to cold temperature; whether you were stuck in the rain, had a draft blowing on you in the middle of the night, or you forgot to wear a scarf on the first cool day of the season (anyone else?). In this case, one part of the treatment would be to eat warming foods to balance out the temperature in the body and eradicate the illness. By warming, we don’t just mean warm to the touch, but foods that are warming to taste as well, like herbs and spices; think: pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and turmeric.

TCM and other ancient medical systems have relied upon herbs and spices to treat ailments for thousands of years. One of the most notable techniques in addition to warming or cooling the body with food is diaphoresis or sweating. When you’re not feeling 100%, have you ever had someone tell you to “sweat it out?” Well, it’s actually a thing! Especially in the early stages of a cold, the goal is to get the patient to sweat out the illness through the pores before it moves deeper into the body. A great way to do this is with diaphoretic herbs and spices that encourage the pores to open, like mint, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, etc. You may notice that many diaphoretic herbs are also warming, but some are cooling, like mint.

Of course, ideally you’re not getting sick in the first place, so we can’t forget about prevention. Nourishing your body with immune boosting foods along with living a healthy lifestyle can directly correlate to a healthy immune system. The body has an innate ability to heal itself, so if you give it the tools it needs with a healthy diet and the proper vitamins and minerals, it has a better chance of fighting off illness, even in the thick of cold and flu season. Of course, life happens, with demanding jobs, kids, and modern day stressors that don’t always allow us to take the best care of ourselves, but one of the best things you can do is set yourself up for success with a good foundation.

Here are a few vital nutrients and the foods and spices where they can be found to keep immune system function in fighting shape:

Antioxidant-Rich Foods:

You’ve most likely heard about the health benefits of antioxidants and the importance of incorporating them into your diet to help prevent illness down the road. Antioxidants help rid the body of free radicals that can lead to signs of increased signs of aging, tissue damage, inflammation, and a weakened immune system. Foods with high antioxidant content include berries, red beans, artichokes and green tea.

Goji berries actually have one of the highest concentrations of antioxidants. We use the tiny red berries in some of our bone broth recipes to boost nutritional content, including the Ginseng Chicken and Turmeric Chicken. To boost your broth, add in a few more goji berries. When soaked in warm liquid they take on a soft, spongy quality and have a very mild flavor. They’re also great added to smoothies and salads.

Vitamins: Some major vitamins, including vitamin C, beta-carotene, and Vitamin E, are also antioxidants… surprise! We all know that it’s important to get the proper vitamins, and in a perfect world you’re absorbing those vitamins via whole food sources.

Here are some of our favorite ways to eat our vitamins:

Citrus: Citrus is a good source of vitamin C, and while vitamin C may not cure your cold, it may help keep symptoms at bay and from developing into a more serious infection. We are big fans of lemon and lime at Nona Lim. We use lime in lots of our recipes, and one of my very favorite wellness rituals is to sip a hot cup of water with fresh lemon juice.

Bell peppers: We love cooking with bell peppers; they’re especially delicious when added to stir-fries of all varieties. What you might not know is that bell peppers are also a great source of vitamin C.

Sweet potatoes: These tubers are a rich source of beta carotene, an antioxidant that makes the flesh of the potatoes orange. Cooked sweet potatoes are also easy to digest, so they provide a maximum amount of nutrition that your body can easily absorb.

Carrots: If one of the major characteristics of beta-carotene is its orange color, it may not surprise you that carrots are also a rich source of this vitamin. Carrots are often used in the base for our broths and they have a starring role in our Carrot Ginger Soup.

Anti – Inflammatory Foods & Spices:

Inflammation is the body’s natural immune response and occurs when you have an injury or illness, and results with symptoms of pain, heat, redness, and swelling, which can take place internally or externally in the body. Inflammation is necessary for survival and recovery, a poor diet, stress and unfavorable lifestyle can also contribute to excess inflammation in the body. The body treats these things, processed foods for example, as invaders and attacks them like they would any other pathogen, causing unfavorable symptoms and a weakened immune system.

A healthy diet is a big part of managing inflammation in the body. Here are a few of our favorite anti-inflammatory foods:

Turmeric: A superfood enjoying quite a moment lately. This bright yellow spice has been shown to reduce inflammation. Many functional doctors recommend incorporating it into your everyday diet to both reduce inflammation and enhance immunity. It’s delicious in soups, curries, and even in your morning latte as a caffeine-free, superfood alternative, or sprinkle into ghee or butter when cooking eggs to get in your healthy omega-3 fatty acids! Look for the spice in our Turmeric Chicken Bone Broth.

Ginger: Ginger is a multi-functional herb in Chinese medicine. Also said to have anti-inflammatory properties, it warms the stomach and can reduce nausea. Ginger is often added to cold or raw foods in traditional recipes to balance out their temperature, so the body can more easily digest them. We love adding ginger to our broths and soups, and if I’m feeling run down, I’ll take a shot of fresh ginger juice to boost my immune system.

Garlic: In addition to being anti-inflammatory, garlic is antibacterial and antifungal. No wonder it’s said to keep vampires away!

Shiitake Mushrooms: These magic fungi have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, and they’ve also been shown to improve the function of immune cells when consumed on a daily basis[1]. How cool is that?! Get your daily dose by throwing some shiitakes into your broth, soup, stir-fry, or by sipping our  Shiitake Beef Bone Broth.

Bone Broth: Of course we have to throw bone broth in here, and for good reason because it is packed with tons of vitamins and minerals that support boosting immunity. Have you ever heard that the immune system resides in the gut? Modern medicine is busy researching the vast connections between the immune system and gut health, and they’ve found that they have a very close relationship.

In a previous post we talked about leaky gut and how bone broth can help. Bone broth has been shown to help seal openings in the gut that may lead to an overactive and eventually weakened immune system. In other words, a healthy, intact gut has a strong correlation to immunity.

Bone broth is easy for the body to absorb, can help heal and seal the gut, and also has anti-inflammatory properties to boot.

If you or a friend are feeling especially run-down or under the weather, we put together a special care package with some of our favorite soups and broths to help you feel Better Soon. In the office you’ll find us sipping them for prevention to bolster our immune system, or if we feel a cold coming on, and we do our best to incorporate foods to boost the immune system on a regular basis.

Here’s one of my favorite wellness elixirs to sip during cold and flu season:

Nona’s Wellness Tea

Ingredients:

A few slices fresh ginger

Juice from half a lemon

1.5 cups hot water

Honey to taste

Directions:

1. Add ginger and lemon juice to a mug

2. Pour in hot water

3. Let cool a bit, so you don’t burn your tongue. Stir in honey to taste. Enjoy!

 

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25866155

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