Key Foods for Balancing Immunity

brain health healthy eating healthy living real food resilience sugarfree Mar 19, 2023

The nutrients in food play an important role for immune health. It’s not just the vitamins, minerals, fats, carbs and protein that matter.  It’s the many beneficial phytochemicals that are found in an abundance in many foods. They help signal the immune system so it can regulate excess inflammation and keep you healthy.

Remember that inflammation is good for when you’re fighting a pathogen or repairing an injury. But the process needs to be activated to do the work and deactivated when the job is done.

Chronic inflammation is a problem and has been linked to many health conditions such as allergies, autoimmune conditions, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, digestive and intestinal issues, and more.

Healthy immunity requires good nutrition, good sleep, low-stress levels, exercise (not too much), and foods that contain key nutrients that help balance immune function.

And you’ll see from this list below, there are fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, eggs, animal and fish foods, and dairy products.

High on the list of Immune-boosting foods are fruits and vegetables with Polyphenols.  These are compounds found in plants that reduce oxidation and inflammation.  Over 8000 polyphenol compounds have effects ranging from anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-tumourigenic.

Plus polyphenols in food enable gut bacteria to produce neurotransmitters, bioactive metabolites and antioxidants.

Long-term diets rich in polyphenols protect against the diseases of chronic inflammation: cancers, heart disease, dementia, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, gastrointestinal problems, and more.

Did you know? Removal of peels strips many of the polyphenols from food.  So buy organic produce where possible, and while a little cleaning is fine, don’t scrub too vigourously and leave the peels on!

Be aware of your food sensitivities: A food sensitivity can trigger not only inflammation in the intestines but in other areas as well. In time, with a balanced immune system and good gut health, food sensitivities can often go away, but it takes time. For now, it’s best to avoid them as they could be contributing to inflammation that you’re experiencing or putting stress on your immune system.

Key foods for balancing immunity:

Some of the foods listed may already be in your diet, Keep them in. Try adding new foods in the different categories to increase the benefits. This is the best way to balance the immune system, lower inflammation and be healthy.

Resveratrol Foods: Cranberries, red currants, lingonberries, red wine, red and purple grapes, cocoa (dark chocolate), mulberries, jackfruit, blueberries, red currants

Sulforaphane Foods: Broccoli sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, bok choy, horseradish, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, sauerkraut, kimchi, daikon, horseradish, wasabi, arugula, cabbage, turnip greens, rutabaga, kohlrabi, maca

Quercetin Foods: Onions, apples, cranberries, blueberries, grapes, kale, spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, green tea 

Fermented Foods: Sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, red wine, unpasteurized beer, miso

Prebiotic Foods: Potatoes, grains, berries, tomatoes, legumes, apples, asparagus, broccoli and other cruciferous foods, bananas, citrus fruits. There are many more.

Glutathione Foods: Asparagus, avocado, spinach, okra, almonds, garlic, walnuts, green tea, tomatoes, sweet potato, squash, Brussels sprouts

NAC (N-acetyl cysteine) Foods: Chicken, turkey, pork, eggs, yogurt, cheese, sunflower seeds, oats, wheat germ, asparagus, spinach, avocado, watercress

Sulfur Foods: Eggs, garlic, onions, cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage), Brussels sprouts, turnips, kale, collard greens, mustard greens, dairy products, legumes, nuts and seeds

Omega-3 Foods: Salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, herring, tuna, trout, oysters, flaxseed, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, Brussels sprouts, spinach, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, mustard greens

Saturated Fats: Butter, ghee, coconut oil, cocoa butter, grass-fed beef, organic pork, chicken and other meats, cold-water fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, arctic char

Vitamin-D Foods: Cod liver oil, salmon, sardines, tuna, mackerel, beef liver, egg yolks, mushrooms

Lycopene Foods: Tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit, papaya, apricots, guava, red bell peppers, mangoes, asparagus, kale, carrots, red cabbage, red onion, goji berries, red currants, gooseberries

And ultimately, pick foods to please your palette. 

Substituting herbs and spices: 

This is all about flavour. If you like a particular herb or spice, try adding it to a new recipe. Why not substitute an herb or spice in a favorite recipe? It’s a way to try something different and get a diverse range of nutrients. Maybe you have learned about a new spice or herb that has the health benefits you want. Just do the substitution as one-for-one and see how you like it. If substituting a fresh herb or spice for a dried, then you need 3 to 4 times as much of the fresh than the dried. And if substituting dried for a fresh herb or spice, then use a third or a quarter of the dried to replace the fresh.spice to one that is already in the recipe. See if you like that even better.

As an extra beneficial way of adding nutrients and taste, try adding an extra herb or vegetable.

Substituting fruits and vegetables: 

From a nutrition perspective, why wouldn't you?  They’re all nutrient rich. 

The reason would be to try new foods, providing a different cross section of nutrients. No two foods are the same. You will also discover new flavours you may enjoy. Not all fruits and vegetables perform the same. Substitute based on similar size and texture. In a recipe, a banana doesn’t substitute well for a blueberry, but a raspberry does. Think about the texture of the substitute in comparison to the one in the recipe. How hard or soft is it? How much liquid does it have? How strong is its flavour? These are the factors that will determine how well it will work in your recipe.

These basic strategies will help you to increase the nutrient value of your foods while maintaining the enjoyment of your favourite recipes. Trying new foods and recipes and experimenting with your favourites is an adventure. Give it a try and enjoy!

Home Practice This Week ~ 

Add variety to your meal planning!

  • Take a look at the list of key foods for balancing immunity and consider how to add 2 or 3 ones new to you each week.
  • Ramp up the flavour of your favourite recipes by adding in different herbs and spices.  Bonus: this also increases the immune-supporting effect

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