Immune-boosting foods — summer edition!

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By Dr. Sharon Stills, NMD

A hot bowl of chicken soup is America’s favorite immune-boosting food. But with summer weather, that’s not too appealing. COVID-19 doesn’t care about the weather, of course. It’s still a threat. That means it’s vital to keep feeding your immune system what it needs to stay strong. 

So what are the best summer-ready foods to boost your immunity? Here’s a look at my favorites and the reasons why these immune-supporting foods deserve a spot at your picnic table this summer.   

 

Sauerkraut and other probiotic-rich foods

Did you know that approximately 75% of your immune system resides in your gastrointestinal tract? It is found among your gut bacteria, so you want to make a special effort to feed good bacteria to your GI tract and help this connection flourish. Summertime is a great opportunity to include more probiotic-rich foods in your diet, such as sauerkraut and kimchi as a side dish or topping at meals, yogurt as an easy breakfast or snack, lacto-fermented pickles as a snack or stacked in a sandwich, and kombucha as a probiotic-filled drink.

Because friendly gut flora is so important for immune health, I am also telling my patients to keep taking their probiotic supplement this summer (and year round) to ensure that good bacteria is constantly replenished. A high quality probiotic like Super Biotic is a great way to get what you need.

Berries

Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries are sweet summertime favorites. But make no mistake about it, these tiny little fruits are bursting with compounds that support your immune health. This is because berries contain flavonoids, a type of antioxidant that can help reduce damage to cells and protect immune response at the cellular level. Other compounds in berries that boost immune response include antioxidant Vitamin C and Vitamin A, dietary fiber, and manganese. Get your berries fresh from the garden or farmers market to enjoy peak nutritional benefits.

 

Tomatoes

A juicy red summer-ripened tomato is not only a treat in your salad or sandwich, it’s also a true immune-boosting superfood. Tomatoes are rich in special and very powerful antioxidants called carotenoids (alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene). Carotenoids help to enhance immune cell function and strengthen the body’s immune response. Tomatoes also contain beneficial amounts of essential antioxidants Vitamins C, A and E.

Other related summer-fresh fruits and veggies with similar immune-boosting nutritional benefits include beets, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, leafy greens, pink grapefruit, and watermelon. In other words, the perfect makings for an immune-boosting picnic!

Iced Tea

Hydration is so important for healthy immune function. It helps the blood stream (which is mainly water) deliver nutrients to the immune cells and filter out toxins and other wastes. Staying hydrated also supports the detoxification pathways of the lymphatic system.

I want you to drink plenty of water and fluids this summer to stay hydrated. If one of your favorite thirst quenchers is iced tea, I encourage you to give it an immune-boosting twist by making your next batch using green, white or oolong tea. These three tea varieties are particularly rich in a range of phytochemicals that can help you avoid infection:

  • L-theanine, an amino acid in tea, appears to prime the immune system’s core T cells, supporting immune response and immunologic memory in fighting off certain pathogens. L-theanine also helps to regulate the secretion of immune cytokines.
  • Another group of compounds in tea called catechins provide antimicrobial effects.
  • A component of green tea called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) has been shown to have antiviral effects.
See my easy recipe below for sun brewed iced tea. It’s just sweet enough and has delicious flavors that bottled teas can’t capture.

 

Mushrooms

Sprinkled on your salad or sautéed in a quick summer stir fry, mushrooms can supercharge your meals with important immune-supporting antioxidants and anti-inflammatory components. Of special note, mushrooms are rich in polysaccharides, which help bolster and protect the structure of immune cells and other cells throughout the body, supporting your overall health.

Some mushrooms contain vitamin D, another important ingredient for resilient immunity. Explore mushroom varieties like shiitake, maitake and reishi for new and unique flavors.

 

Bonus food! Garlic

Garlic definitely lives up to its immune-boosting hype! Here’s the scoop: garlic belongs to the plant genus Allium, known for its production of organosulfur compounds. These compounds have been shown to enhance immune function by stimulating certain immune cell types, such as macrophages and lymphocytes. Studies also show that garlic may offer special protection against viral and bacterial infections of the respiratory tract. Other types of alliums that offer similar benefits include onions and leeks. I am currently obsessed with leeks! 

For a new way to eat garlic this summer, try garlic scapes, the curling tops of garlic plants that can be stir fried or turned into pesto. Scapes contain all the benefits of garlic, but have a milder nutty flavor.

I hope this gives you ideas for tasty tweaks to your summertime meals.

Even if our picnics and backyard barbecues look very different this year, here’s to a safe summer filled with flavor and good health!

Easy Sun-Brewed Iced Tea 

Ingredients 

1 gallon of water

4 green tea bags 

1 tsp of honey 

1 spring of mint 

Lemon slices for garnish 

Gallon-sized glass jar with lid 

Directions

Place water, tea bags and mint in the glass jar and add lid. Leave bottle in a sunny spot for three hours, preferably outside. After brewing, remove mint and tea bags from the jar. Stir in honey and serve tea over ice, garnishing with lemon if desired. 

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References

https://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@sop/@smd/documents/downloadable/ucm_319587.pdf

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/clinical-guidance-management-patients.html

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-italy-tally/italys-coronavirus-deaths-surge-by-627-in-a-day-elderly-at-high-risk-idUSKBN2172VL

https://news.weill.cornell.edu/news/2016/11/cells-of-the-immune-system-implicated-in-high-blood-pressure-related-dementia

https://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lanres/PIIS2213-2600(20)30116-8.pdf

https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/heart/hbp_low.pdf

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-hypertension-fitness/to-lower-blood-pressure-exercise-may-be-as-good-as-medication-idUSKCN1OQ1GV

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4054797/

Last updated on 06/19/2020