A quick google will have you quickly listing off the top 10 foods for immunity. Nearly every site will list citrus fruits, broccoli and leafy greens and berries as some top contenders. Capsicum and Kiwi fruit usually make the cut for their vitamin C content, along with orange foods for betacarotene. This all holds validity, and we know that a diet rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants from our fruit and vegetables is going to support our health overall, immunity included.
However there are a lot of foods, rarely mentioned, that provide significant nourishment to your body along with immune support. Here are a few of my favourites when it comes to immune nourishment.
The humble chicken soup is cheap nutrition at its best, is simple to make and is great value for money. Nanna was right about using it for colds too, chicken soup has been shown to have a mild anti-inflammatory effect which may help reduce symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections.
Herbs and spices- Garlic, ginger and turmeric oh my!
A lot of lists may have mentioned these foods already, and for good reason. But for the times they weren’t listed, I wanted to emphasise their helpfulness. Garlic is one of the most powerful antimicrobial foods we have, and has well established immune modulating and anti-inflammatory effects. Ginger is another potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant and turmeric with its huge number of studies behind it is well renowned as a very healthful inclusion. Thyme and oregano are also renowned for their antimicrobial properties and thyme is a common herb used in a lot of my formulas for chest and throat conditions.
Mushrooms are often forgotten as great immune supporters. Shiitake, maitake, oyster mushrooms, Portobello mushrooms and enoki mushrooms have been associated with strengthening the immune system and helping to prevent cancer. Shiitake mushrooms have been shown to improve T cell function and reduce inflammatory cytokines. Even the humble button mushroom has demonstrated immune boosting properties and improved secretory IgA production ( a compound important at protecting us from ingested pathogens).
These can be stir-fried, sauteed, simmered in broths and soups, added to risotto or chopped up and included in many meals from sauces to bolognese, rissoles, meatballs and more. Enoki even work well as a “noodle” texture in many dishes. A few other powerful medicinal mushrooms such as reiishi and cordycepts are used in herbal medicines and supplements as they don’t extend well to culinary use.
While it may make some of you squeamish, eating from a nose-to-tail approach is one of the most balanced, nutritionally dense ways we can eat. Liver makes my list as it is high in Vitamin A and contains Vitamin D, two nutrients important for the immune system that are commonly low in western diets and not readily available in many foods. It also contains iron, zinc, B12, B vitamins and even vitamin C. You can make it into pate, chop or puree it and hide in mince dishes (rissoles, bolognese, meatballs etc) or simply saute with onions, garlic and thyme.
Sometimes nature has all the goodness we need packaged up ready to go. To me oysters are in that category and I see them as a little powerhouses full of bioavailable zinc, along with iron, B12, Vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids, iodine, selenium and more. For those that don’t love oysters as is, try them chopped up and through savory dishes or into omelettes/ savory pancakes etc. Muscles run a close second place and while other shellfish aren’t quite as nutrient-rich as oysters and muscles they’re still wonderful to include in your diet if you can tolerate them.
Hopefully this helps you reconsider how you provide deep nourishment for your body and immune system throughout the year, but especially as the seasons change and the weather cools.
Whenever I feel like on on the edge of something I crave my homemade seafood laksa. Lots of ginger, garlic, turmeric and spices with easily digested seafood, Asian greens and fresh herbs in a chicken broth base and coconut base. Add enoki and shiitake mushrooms, a bit of capsicum for added Vitamin C and you have the perfect example of food as medicine at its best. Maybe you could try it?
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Sandi Cooper is an experienced Naturopath working in clinical practice for almost two decades. Her clients love her down-to-earth approach and her naturally caring qualities. Although Sandi is experienced in most areas of clinical practice, she has a special interest in children’s health and nutrition, working with parents to get the best outcomes for their children.