There are many great ways to boost your immune system naturally including looking no further than the Willy Street Co-op Produce department. Since we’re in the middle of winter in Wisconsin, we could probably all use a little extra boost to keep ourselves as healthy as possible through the rest of the cold and flu season. I would like to highlight some fresh fruits, vegetables, and common cooking herbs that will help to strengthen your immune system—some of them might even help warm you up.
Citrus contains vitamin C, which helps increase the production of white blood cells, which in turn helps to fight infections. Our bodies don’t store or produce vitamin C, so a daily intake is essential for continued health. Aside from containing vitamin C, citrus fruits are loaded with flavonoids, which are natural chemical compounds that can increase immune system activation. Citrus fruits to look for in February include: grapefruit, kumquats, lemons, Meyer lemons, limes, navel oranges, Minneola tangelos, blood oranges, Cara Cara navel oranges, tangerines, and Pomelos.
This tropical fruit is available year round, and is an excellent alternative to citrus for getting your daily dose of vitamin C. In fact, kiwi is packed with more vitamin C than the equivalent amount of an orange.
Blueberries are one of the fruits highest in antioxidants and are potent immune boosters. Eat fresh or frozen three to four times per week for the optimal benefits of this amazing super fruit.
Sweet Potatoes/Winter Squash
Orange vegetables contain beta carotene, which your body turns into vitamin A. Vitamin A helps your skin and respiratory system stay strong and healthy, thus helping your body defend itself against illness. Vitamin A also attacks damaging free radicals in the body.
“Studies show that mushrooms increase the production and activity of white blood cells, making them more aggressive. This is a good thing when you have an infection,” according to Douglas Schar, director of the Institute of Herbal Medicine in Washington, D.C. Look for shiitake, maitake and reishi mushrooms to get the most bang for your buck, as they are the most potent immune boosting mushrooms. Shiitake mushrooms contain a type of carbohydrate called beta-glucans; they don’t create or regulate cells within your immune system. Instead they act as a kind of decoy, boosting your immune response. What happens is that your immune system reacts as if a harmful substance is present and kicks into high gear to protect you. Not into the “medicinal” varieties? Even white button mushrooms contain the mineral selenium, B vitamins riboflavin and niacin, as well as antioxidants
All varieties of cabbage are good sources of vitamin C and A, and of the immune strengthening amino acid glutamine. Include green, red, napa, and savoy cabbage in your diet to ensure you receive the slightly different health benefits of each kind.
This superfood is loaded with beneficial nutrients that protect the body and stimulate the immune system, including vitamin C, vitamin A, and gluathione.
Nutrient-rich spinach contains fiber, antioxidants, and folate that help your body produce new cells and repair DNA. Eat raw or lightly steamed for optimal health benefits.
Red Bell Peppers
Red bell peppers are packed with nutrients. Gram for gram they have twice the vitamin C of most vitamin C-containing fruits and vegetables, including oranges.
This potent root vegetable is detoxifying and antibacterial. It can be eaten raw or cooked. Try slicing it into salads, miso soup, or stir-fries.
Red beets contain pigments called betalains, which function as antioxidants and support the body in detoxification.
Herbs and Spices
Ginger is helpful in increasing healthy sweat production, which helps us to get rid of germs and sweat out toxins. It can also reduce nausea and vomiting, which makes it an invaluable stomach flu remedy.
Contains the active ingredient allicin, a sulphur containing compound, and other antioxidants, that fight infection and bacteria. For optimal benefits, garlic should be eaten fresh daily. Unlike synthetic antibiotics, bacteria, viruses, and yeast do not build up a resistance to it.
Turmeric is a great general immune system booster due to its high antioxidant capacity. It is five-to-eight times stronger than vitamins C and E, Turmeric’s golden color comes from curcumin, a polyphenol with strong cold and flu fighting properties.
Herbs and spices are potent antioxidants. In terms of herbs, oregano is the highest in antioxidant compounds. It has a high content of phenolic acids and flavonoids. Eating oregano can protect against the common cold, influenza, fevers and indigestion.
Don’t overlook parsley as just a garnish. This vibrant herb is loaded with vitamins C and A, as well as antioxidants. I will leave you with a simple recipe for wellness, created by West Produce Staff Member, Andy Gricevich.
Andy’s Wellness Boost
Organic jalapeño pepper
Organic shiitake mushrooms
Organic burdock root
Organic red beet
Organic flat leaf parsley