Dietitian Monica Auslander suggests recipes for immune boosting foods that are already in your pantry.
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Summer is the ultimate season to travel. Flights are booked, new locales rule our cameras, the smell of adventure is in the air, and so are the coughs, congestion, and infections. For those of us prone to come home with a new cold after our travels, it pays to upgrade our routines with our first defense against sickness- our diets. I spoke to Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RD, LD/N, and founder of Essence Nutrition about immune boosting foods that fuel our bodies and are packed with nutrients to help maintain and maybe even boost our immune systems. If you are wandering in the kitchen, you might be interested in checking out these simple snacks for a quick immunity boost instead.
Loaded with antioxidants and nutrients, spinach can improve blood pressure, eye health, and reduce the look of aging. It’s also rich in Vitamin C, which we already know helps boost white blood cells to fight against disease. Monica explains the science behind the nutrients, and offers some of her favorite recipes that include these immunity boosting foods. Try her simple smoothie recipe for an easy way to add some spinach into your diet.
Eat It: A cup of milk, a handful of spinach, ground flaxseed, a banana + frozen mango, and some cinnamon – blend.
Tip from Monica: Spinach does lose Vitamin C, folate, B vitamins, and thiamine once heated, however, where nutrients are lost, others tend to be enhanced. The important thing is to vary how you eat spinach over time — both cooked and raw!
When I asked Monica what her top tip is for maintaining a strong and healthy immune system. She said, “staying hydrated is key for immunity and fighting off illnesses” as it helps to flush toxins from the body and decreases your susceptibility to illness. Water also helps to absorb all of the important vitamins and minerals that come from the foods you eat, aiding in your body’s defense to bacteria and infection.
For an extra hydrating boost, Monica recommends products like RSP Nutrition’s Immunity + Hydration Shot. This blend of vitamin C, elderberry, echinacea (an immune boosting herb), ginger, astragalus (an anti-inflammatory herb), coconut water and other electrolytes helps replenish nutrients that can be lost from fever or sweating. It is the perfect option to both boost immunity and improve hydration.
It may be a little surprising to learn that integrating garlic into your diet everyday can help boost your white blood cells and help fight off disease.
Eat It: Easy ways to include this versatile ingredient in your diet is to create your own salad dressings, marinades and sauces rather than buying from the store. Try out this simple dressing the next time you create your own leafy salad:
Minced garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper
Tip: For maximum nutritional benefit, leave garlic for 10 minutes after mincing to allow the production of the compound Allicin, the nutrient that boosts white blood cell’s disease-fighting ability.
Sustainably Dispose: With any leftover cloves of garlic, you can plant and grow your own supply. Plant into soil, with the roots pointing down, and move to an outdoor space that receives direct sunlight.
Red Bell Pepper
When I think of Vitamin C I think of either an orange or the little tablets I willingly took as a kid because they fizzed out on my tongue AND tasted good. What doesn’t come to mind is a red bell pepper. But this unsuspecting veggie actually contains twice the amount of Vitamin C as an orange, proving it to be a great source of the essential nutrient.
Our bodies don’t produce Vitamin C on their own, depending solely on the food we choose to eat for the daily requirement. As this nutrient helps with many bodily functions like absorption of iron, healing wounds, maintaining strong teeth and bones, and boosting the immune system, it is important to make sure that our daily diets include plenty of Vitamin C-rich foods. Try this recipe for a no hassle side you can add to any night of the week’s dinner table:
Eat It: Roasted vegetables – toss sliced bell peppers (and other veggies like mushrooms, sweet potato, etc.) in olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast in the oven until golden brown.
Sustainably Dispose: Save the seeds and stem of your bell pepper. You can easily replant into a pot of soil, water, and watch your own garden grow. Soon you will have your own abundance of peppers to throw into your dishes.
I can still smell the sweet aroma of this spice in last Thanksgiving’s air. But cinnamon doesn’t have to be locked away after the last piece of pumpkin pie is eaten. It can be enjoyed all year round. And it should.
This sweet spice contains antioxidants that help the body reduce inflammation. Monica explains, “cinnamon happens to be well studied for lowering blood sugar and therefore some inflammation that goes along with that metabolic process. It also cuts down on the need for sugar since it is naturally sweet.” For an easy way to add cinnamon into your diet that isn’t in your latte try out these simple ideas:
Eat It: Sprinkle on your morning yogurt/parfait, or at night on your ice-cream dessert treat
Sustainably Dispose: It may take you a while to get through it all, but once you finish the last of your spice, save the container it came in. You can repurpose this to store your own herbs growing in your personal garden.
Berries have always been an easy grazing substitute for me. Instead of cutting myself a cheese board, or making myself quick nachos, I like to mix together a bowl of blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries to fill my body with a hit of antioxidants.
Monica told me that foods containing antioxidants can help reduce the process of oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is free radical damage to cells — which causes a variety of inflammatory processes and diseases — and even aging.
Eat It: Berries are easy to add to a number of meals, like in your morning yogurt, smoothies and as a topping for any dessert. If you want to try something new, try blending with yogurt and freezing them into creamsicles. They provide a great boost of natural and refreshing sweetness.
Sustainably Buy: Try to buy your berries from local grocers and farmers markets to cut down on plastic waste. Bring your own mesh bags and only fill up on what you need for the week.
Turmeric & Curcumin
You might already know that turmeric is the spice that has a rich yellow color and is commonly used in Indian cooking. But, did you know that it also has a number of medicinal properties?
Curcumin is one of the compounds found in turmeric, and is important as it gives the spice many of its beneficial effects. It helps to reduce inflammation in the body and provides powerful antioxidants, which not only fight against free radicals, but help boost the body’s own antioxidant levels. As Monica tells us, “spices are immunity allstars” and we should try to use five spices in our diet per day.
Eat It: For an easy way to add turmeric into your day to day, try this simple turmeric latte. Heat the milk of your choice in a saucepan, once hot add in turmeric powder and cinnamon. You can also try adding honey for sweetness.
Tip: the consumption of black pepper helps the body to absorb curcumin.
Whether you are just grazing, or adding nuts into your bigger meals, there are so many to choose from. Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, pine nuts, walnuts and more.
Nuts are high in a number of nutrients including vitamin E, magnesium and selenium. They are high in fiber which helps to promote healthy gut bacteria. They also contain antioxidants that help with the anti-aging of cells and fight against free radicals in the body. And, in case you need a reason to choose them as your go-to work-from-home snack, nuts like almonds have been known to boost cognitive performance and your mood.
Eat It: You can easily add nuts to your next sweet treat. Try this chocolate recipe. I asked Monica for tips on adding nuts into our diet and she shared a soothing nighttime snack that can even help to induce sleep. “Opt for some walnuts stirred into a soothing bowl of rolled oats made with milk or water and some cinnamon.”
Sustainably buy: You can easily buy nuts from local markets and grocers, cutting down on plastic waste with your own sustainable mesh bags or containers.
As well as being trendy amidst the avocado toast craze, this nutritious green fruit is rich in vitamins and minerals that benefit the body.
Avocados actually contain more potassium than bananas, which help lower blood pressure in the body. They also are high in fiber and heart-healthy fats, helping to reduce inflammation and improve cholesterol. The fat absorbed from this fruit also helps the body absorb nutrients from other plant foods consumed. Try this simple smoothie recipe to enjoy all of its nutritious benefits:
Eat It: Blend frozen mango, avocado, spinach and your milk of choice into a refreshing smoothie. Or, cut in half and top with veggies for a mini savory snack.
Sustainably Dispose: you can compost your avocado skins, but cut them up into smaller pieces as they are slow to decompose. You can also reuse your leftover pits and plant to grow your own avocado tree.
Now, broccoli isn’t my favorite vegetable, but when it comes to boosting your immune system through food, you can’t go past this classic. It is loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants to help keep the body healthy. It also works to reduce inflammation in the body and promotes healthy digestion and gut function. It is also packed with vitamin C, the vitamin that is well known for fighting illnesses and infections.
Eat It: Toss broccoli, olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic together, then roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice.
Originating from China, this spice has many beneficial effects including anti-inflammatory properties, supporting healthy digestion, alleviating joint and muscle pain, and fighting infections.
The active ingredient in ginger, gingerol, works to prevent the growth of a variety of bacteria to help the body fight off infection. For a simple way to add ginger into your diet, try this easy ginger tea recipe:
Eat It: Add ginger to your next bowl of noodles, stir fry, or curry for an immune-boosting burst of flavor.
Sustainably Dispose: If you notice a little bit of greenery sprouting from your ginger plant place it in a pot of rich soil to grow a new plant.
If someone asked me to choose one plant I couldn’t live without I would have no hesitation telling them my answer- mushrooms. And, as a bonus the antioxidants found in mushrooms help to fight free radicals, lower cholesterol and reduce inflammation – all of which help to boost immunity.
I could add in mushrooms to every meal, whether it be an array of roasted vegetables, in a risotto or in pasta, but for a super simple treat in the morning try this breakfast scramble:
Eat It: Saute mushrooms and cherry tomatoes in a pan, pour in beaten eggs (add a dash of milk or water when beating) and scramble. Top with salt and pepper.
Sustainably dispose: don’t throw away the containers from store-bought mushrooms. Save and reuse to pot plants as you start to grow your own garden. Once the plant has grown, move into a larger pot or garden bed.
This citrus fruit might be a little tart, but it is rich in many vitamins and nutrients that help keep the body healthy. Much like oranges they are high in vitamin C and work to fight off infections and bacteria in the body. They are also a high source of fiber, which not only helps keep the digestive system healthy, but lowers blood sugar levels and reduces the risk of heart disease.
From adding it to your tea to drizzling it over your meals, lemons are easy to add into your day-to-day diet. Try this easy immunity shot in the morning to keep those illnesses away:
Eat It: Apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, honey, boiling water – mix
Sustainably Dispose: Use your lemon peels to create your own DIY home cleaners. Let the peels sit in an airtight jar with vinegar for a couple of weeks for a sustainable all-purpose cleaner.
These small snacks may not be your go-to choice when you are starving, but they should be high on your list when you are looking for a quick boost of immunity. Some great options to try are flax, chia, hemp, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. All are great sources of vitamin E, which acts as an antioxidant in the body. It helps to reduce inflammation and fight against free radicals caused by oxidative stress. Seeds are also a great source of fiber, helping to maintain a healthy digestive system and lower blood pressure.
For a delicious idea that includes pumpkin seeds, try out this tasty recipe below:
Eat it: If you’re a food prep kinda person or you enjoy making granola and cookies, try adding flax or sunflower seeds to your recipes. You can always try an overnight chia pudding where you add a teaspoon chia seeds to your milk of choice and allow it sit overnight. Top it with fresh fruit, your sweetner of choice, and pumpkin seeds in the morning.