Superfoods have become all the rage these days. But what makes a food a superfood? This group of foods is said to be particularly nutrient-dense providing therapeutic benefits for human health.
Some modern superfoods that have been singled out and highlighted in the wellness scene include chia seeds, goji berries, turmeric, and kale.
But these foods are anything but new as they have been used for thousands of years by our ancestors.
Bottom line? Superfoods are more of a marketing term to define foods that are healthy for us. There is no need to splurge on premium superfood products that have been marketed as the holy grail of foods. By sticking to whole foods, and particularly plant foods, you won't have to worry about getting plenty of superfoods into your diet.
Immune boosting superfoods
The immune system's role is to protect the body against foreign pathogenic invaders, and it does this well. However, food and nutrient intake have a significant impact on the immune system and how well it does its job.
So which foods can help support your immune system the best? Read on to discover some of our favorites!
When Hippocrates said that food was medicine, he definitely had garlic in mind! Garlic is a powerful medicinal food that has been shown to play a significant role in modulating immunity. Used for the prevention and treatment of certain illnesses dating all the way back to ancient civilizations 4,000 years ago, today garlic is a great food to add to your cabinet particularly doing the cold and flu season (1).
Garlic's immune-boosting properties come specifically from the compound allicin, which supports the immune system in fighting off infections.
Allicin and other sulfur compounds stimulate infection-fighting immune cells and contain anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, antioxidant, and anti-microbial properties that help to combat viruses and boost resilience (2).
Don't be afraid to add garlic to your food to help minimize your chances of getting sick. And if you do have the misfortune of falling ill, garlic has been shown to help reduce the severity and duration of symptoms (3).
To maximize the benefits crush the garlic to release the allicin, and let it sit for a few minutes before cooking.
Mushrooms are known as some of the most nutritious foods on the planet. Shiitake mushrooms are native to East Asia and are particularly beneficial for our immune system (4).
Highly nutritious, they contain a specific compound called lentinan shown to stimulate the immune system (5). Shiitake mushrooms are also a rich source of glucans, which are polysaccharides that feed our good gut bacteria. Remember 70% of the immune system resides in the gut and proper immune function largely depends on our microbe population, which is majoritively linked to our diet!
You can buy shiitake raw, dried, or fresh and add them to various recipes.
Used in traditional Ayurvedic cooking, turmeric is quickly gaining popularity among health fanatics. Turmeric is a brightly colored spice widely used in Southeast Asian cuisine that has many health benefits. For this reason, it has become a popular supplement in health food stores and is commonly included in health-boosting recipes.
Curcumin, the active component found in turmeric, is known for its therapeutic properties. It has potent anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects that can influence the activation of immune cells such as macrophages, natural killer cells, and neutrophils (6).
You can add turmeric to your cooking or even make a comforting tea or latte out of it. However, if you are looking for more therapeutic effects, supplementation with curcumin has been shown to be more effective.
Another immune fighter, ginger contains antimicrobial and antiviral compounds to help fight infections but it also exerts anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, and anti-oxidative stress effects (6).
Not only that but it helps alleviate nausea and digestive discomfort making it quite versatile and a must-have staple in any kitchen!
As one of the oldest medicinal foods, ginger was actually treasured thousands of years ago but was difficult to come by. Nowadays we have easy access to ginger which can be used on a regular basis in everyday cooking.
As a warming and grounding spice, it is perfect for the colder season to warm you up from the inside and give yourmealsa kick!
Want a simple way to get the benefits? Make yourself a hot cup of tea with a knob of fresh ginger and a 1 tsp of raw honey and you got yourself a yummy cup of immunity!
Onions make up the same family as garlic and can similarily stimulate the immune system (7). As a rich source of vitamins and minerals, onions contain 25 active compounds that include bacteria-fighting elements.
Onions also benefit your gut by providing substantial amounts of polyphenols and prebiotics which feed your microbiome and increase the ratio of good bacteria that reside. It's important to feed these beneficial microbes because they help protect your mucosal lining and enhance immune function (8).
Be careful to not over peel the onion though as most of the polyphenol content is said to be located in the outer layers.
Need a quick way to get rid of onion breath? Have some ginger! Not only will you freshen up your breath but it provides another immune boost.
I think we can all agree that honey is the perfect throat soother when you have a cold. But did you know it can actually help you fight illnesses too?
But first let's clear the air, this isn't just any honey we're talking about. Make sure you are buying raw unpasteurized honey which preserves all of the beneficial nutrients. Pasteurized honey should be avoided as this kills off naturally occurring enzymes and nutrients in order to extend the shelf life of the product.
Honey in its raw form has anti-fungal, anti-microbial, and antibacterial properties that can fight infections and kill harmful microbes like bacteria, viruses, and fungi (9). Honey is also a nutritional powerhouse that packs antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins and minerals that help build the immune system, such as vitamin C.
If you want to get the most benefits, opt for manuka honey which has been shown to act as a natural antibiotic and provide higher antibacterial effects (9).
Humans have been making broth (either veggie or animal) for thousands of years due to its rich nutritional content. Broth still remains a staple in many diets today and is often spoken about by health professionals. Bone broth, in particular, is an easy and sustainable way to use the whole animal and not let any food go to waste. This also ensures that you are getting a wide array of nutrients.
Boiling the bones and tendons of animals releases minerals, amino acids, and healing compounds such as glycine, collagen, calcium, magnesium, and gelatin. The nutrients found in bone broth are made easy to absorb and can fight infections caused by the cold or flu virus.
Bone broth can be healing to the gut by providing gelatin, glutamine, and collagen which have been linked to improved gut integrity (10). Remember the majority of the immune system lies in the gut so it's up to us to take care of it!
You can make bone broth with any animal bones however the most commonly used are beef and chicken. Ask your local butcher or find organic/grass-fed bones or carcasses at your local market. You can also buy broth already made but always ensure it is made from quality animal products to avoid toxins and heavy metals. Adding vegetables is a great way to boost the nutrient density of your broth, and if you are vegan you can make a veggie-based broth instead.
8 cups organic chicken stock 8 cups washed and torn kale 4 medium organic skinless chicken thighs 2 cups diced onions 2 cups chopped leeks 2 cups chopped shiitake mushrooms 2 cups chopped carrots 2 cups diced sweet potato 1 cup sliced celery 5 cloves chopped garlic 2 inches minced ginger 2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil 1/2 tsp himalyan salt
Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion, garlic cloves, ginger, and leek. Cook until softened for about 3 minutes. Add chopped vegetables (except kale), chicken, salt, chicken stock to the pot. Bring to a boil then reduce to simmer. Cook for about 25 minutes or until vegetables have softened. Stir in the kale at the end, and serve!
Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.