Maintaining a healthy immune system can be as straightforward as a diet.
Leona West, a certified Nutritionist, Herbalist, Fitness Trainer, and Birth Doula who specializes in functional medicine, explains that eating for immunity can be as simple as eating locally and seasonally available foods.
When we eat according to the season, we eat fruits and vegetables that are naturally abundant during specific times of the year.
For example, in the cooler months of the year, we see more hearty greens, yams, and gourds. Whereas in the summer, foods that naturally complement warm weather, such as watermelons and strawberries, are more common.
Leona tells us, “When you eat foods that are local and in season, they will always carry the most amount of antioxidants." And antioxidants are key to maintaining the strength of the immune system.
Get Familiar with Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices are key components to boosting immunity that are largely ignored in the American diet. Besides giving depth and dimension to food, herbs and spices can actually promote health and a hearty immune function.
Leona points out, “Herbs and spices actually carry higher amounts of antioxidant activity than some of the high antioxidant foods that we think of, like blueberry and pomegranate.”
“When you are eating with herbs and spices, you are automatically nourishing your immunity because you are bringing a lot of antioxidant activity to each meal.”
The cooler months of the year are notoriously known as the cold and flu season. Herbs that have a natural and powerful antimicrobial function in the body are the herbs we typically see accompanying holiday dishes: thyme, rosemary, and oregano.
It is helpful to remember that incorporating herbs and spices into your meals does not require any radical shift in your diet. In fact, it can be as easy as sprinkling fresh thyme over baked squash.
The top 3 herbs to begin to incorporate are:
- Ginger — Steep ginger into hot tea with a little honey, grate ginger into creamy winter soups or try our Carrot Ginger Soup or Orange Carrot Ginger Smoothie.
- Turmeric — Sprinkle turmeric onto roasted vegetables, in steamed rice, or try one of our smoothie recipes.
- Oregano — Replace basil with fresh oregano in pesto recipes, or sprinkle fresh or dried oregano over salad and roasted vegetables.
In Chinese medicine, all foods, spices, herbs, and even medicinally used stones and shells have temperatures. This temperature imparts a quality of hot or cold in the body.
While the herbal system used in Chinese medicine is extraordinarily complex, it is also based on daily observations of the natural world.
For example, many foods that flourish during the summer months are cooling. Eating these foods can bring balance to the body by harmonizing the internal environment with the external environment.
This is why many of us are drawn toward a steaming cup of tea during the cooler months. In addition to offering a potent antioxidant boost and being rich in tannins, which have an antimicrobial function, tea literally brings warmth to the body.
Eating local goes beyond supporting your immediate community.
For example, local bee products can profoundly influence immune function. This is especially true during the spring season, when allergies and asthma have the tendency to flare up. While honey will have too much sugar if you are suffering from candida, you can still reap the immune-regulating benefits by choosing to use local bee pollen, propolis, and royal jelly.
When shopping for local foods, keep in mind that we now have access to foods that have been shipped from all over the world. This means that at the market, we can typically find any food we desire, in spite of the season.
If you would like to get an idea of what fruits and vegetables are fresh and seasonal in your area:
- Shop at your local farmers' market. Whatever is on the tables at your farmers' market is typically what is in season. And while you can buy the same seasonal foods at your local grocery store, check and see where the foods were originally grown.
Many stores now label where their food is sourced, or you can even find this information on the PLU (price look-up) sticker that dots certain fruits and vegetables. This information is important. Locally grown food has not been shipped halfway across the globe and it is, therefore, picked closer to its peak of maturity. This means that it has maximum nutrient value and that its nutrients, specifically antioxidants, are still active.
- Look into Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). If you find that your schedule cannot accommodate the times when the farmers' market is up and running, you can also subscribe to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in your area.
CSA is a great way to get to know your farmers and what is growing locally in your area. In addition, the produce available through CSA is typically extremely fresh, flavorful, and organic or wild-crafted. Like farmers' markets, some CSA programs also offer eggs, dairy, or meat to their customers.
Boosting the health of your immune system is often as simple as changing the way you eat. When you eat according to season, you will naturally select fresh fruits and vegetables that are abundant during specific times of the year. Local, seasonal foods contain the largest amount of antioxidants to strengthen the immune system.