I decided to write this post as many folks have been asking me for suggestions on what foods to include in their diet during this time of year when we are more prone to getting sick. To make matters worse, we are now faced with a pandemic that has left us under a great deal of stress. The SARS-CoV 2 virus has caused tremendous fear and anxiety for people across the globe which further undermines our immune system's capacity to defend against pathogens.
Stress, especially prolonged, chronic stress has a suppressive effect on our immune system by decreasing immune cell numbers and function as well as promoting pro-inflammatory mechanisms and cytokine production. (1), (2) One of the most important preventive measures you can take during these challenging times is to practice stress reduction: mindfulness, meditation, breathing, tai chi and yoga all offer great benefits when it comes to reducing stress and turning on the parasympathetic nervous system to promote relaxation and lower inflammation. And you really don't need that much: even 10-15 min a day will do great things for your health!
As a functional nutritionist, I am also a great advocate of using food as medicine. I believe that food (real, unprocessed food) heals the body, and if used to nourish and nurture, it can transform your life and health.
According to an article by Chris Kresser, many Americans are deficient in important life-sustaining nutrients due to the current prevalence of chronic disease, food processing and poor agriculture methods resulting in soil depletion.(3) One of the most important things we can do to improve our health and the health of our planet is to vote with our dollar, choosing nutrient-dense, minimally processed, and organic, locally-grown foods. We can change our eating habits by consuming a plant-based, whole foods diet, and by supporting small farmers who are committed to sustainable agriculture methods. (4),(5)
With this in mind, here is a list of the top immune-boosting, health-sustaining foods you should incorporate into your diet as much as possible:
1. Number one on my list, now and at any time really, is a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, especially bitter greens (in season now), cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, roots and tubers (sweet potatoes, yams, parsnips etc.), and low glycemic fruits like berries, cherries and citrus fruits, which are also high in vitamins C, A and other immune-boosting compounds.