5 Healthy Foods to Boost Your Immune System
People often ask me what foods they should be eating to improve their health. Here's what you need to ask yourself: Does it come from the ground? If so, it’s more likely to be nutrient-dense – especially if you’re considering a packaged food like pasta, chips, or crackers by comparison. Most of us don’t get enough vegetables in our diets, and all too often the vegetables we eat are limited to foods like white potatoes and corn. Not that potatoes and corn have no nutritional benefit – they do, but variety and color are two important factors to consider when adding more vegetables to your diet. Here’s a list of 5 nutrient-rich vegetables and fruits to consider incorporating into your meals:
1. Leafy greens: Leafy greens are rich in B vitamins, iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and vitamins A, C, E, and K (more on the benefits of these nutrients in future posts). Examples include spinach, kale, swiss chard, lettuce, and one of my personal favorites: yep, collard greens.
One serving equals 2 cups raw (about the size of two of your fists) or 1 cup cooked (ie, one fist size). If you can incorporate just one serving of leafy greens every day, then you’ll be off to a great start! If you’re skeptical of kale, you can add kale to a smoothie and never know it’s in there – I promise! Try it. Alternatively, you can add a half cup of sautéed spinach to your dinner, or simply have a salad for lunch.
2. Berries: Berries, such as blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries, are high in vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants that fight free radicals which means they may prevent cancer, heart disease, and other diseases. All kinds of berries are packed with nutrients, and taste great in salad, yogurt (dairy-free or regular), or as a snack with some raw almonds or walnuts.
Side note: Berries are low-glycemic and high-fiber, so they won’t spike your blood sugar. If you eat them as a standalone snack, you run the risk of being hungry again sooner rather than later, due to the carb and sugar content, whereas if you combine them with nuts, the protein and healthy fat keeps you fuller for longer. So that’s why I recommend adding nuts if you eat them as a snack.
Both the USDA and the IFM (Institute for Functional Medicine) recommend two cups of fruit a day for adults following a diet of 2,000 calories a day.
3. Any colorful vegetable of your choice: red cabbage, carrots, yellow peppers, sweet potatoes, eggplant, the list goes on. Colorful vegetables are packed full of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients which can prevent disease and boost your immune system. When you plan your meal, think about how you can make it colorful. When you go to the grocery store, spend some time in the produce section. Are there colorful vegetables there that you haven’t noticed or considered before? Try something new. Make your meal a rainbow of color. Now that spring is here, check out your local farmer’s market. Nothing beats fresh local vegetables!
The USDA recommends 2½ cups (5 servings) of vegetables per day, while the IFM suggests that aiming for 3-4 per servings per meal can prevent disease. My recommendation is to start with adding 1 more vegetable to 2 meals per day. Rome wasn’t built in a day, folks! One serving of cooked vegetables is half a cup which is about the size of one cupped hand. One serving of raw vegetables (excluding leafy greens) is one cup, about the size of one of your fists.
4. Onions: Onions are a good source of fiber, vitamin C, folate, vitamin B6, potassium, and antioxidants, including an anti-inflammatory antioxidant called quercetin. If you plan to be in close proximity to anyone mask-less, you may want to hold off, because your breath will not be smelling good, my friends. But during this time of masks and social distancing, now’s a good time to add more onions to your diet. They’re especially tasty lightly sautéed in olive oil with kale or cabbage. However, if you have IBS, onions can cause gastric distress. If that’s the case, contact me – I can guide you through gastrointestinal (GI) issues such as small intestinal bowel overgrowth (SIBO) or sensitivity to high-FODMAPs foods such as onions.
5. Garlic: Garlic is loaded with vitamin B6, manganese, selenium, and immune-boosting vitamin C. Garlic is a flavorful enhancer of vegetables and other foods, and easy to add. But, as is the case with onions, the odor and potential GI sensitivity may be an issue when it comes to garlic. Again, contact me if that's the case - I would love to work with you!
What do you think? Do you feel like you can add more vegetables and fruits into your diet now? What ways might you do so? Please let me know your thoughts by posting a comment below.