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Nutrition

Food as medicine: Boost your immune system with these 3 nutrients.

Covid-19 has left all of us with an odd ways of coping with change. Whether that is unanticipated spring cleaning, learning how to bake bread, turning your porch into a garden, helping a neighbor, or setting new goals for yourself. We are all finding ways to adapt to this new world. For me, it took about an entire month of quarantine for me to realize that I needed to prioritize my health – and start understanding that this is, for the time being, our new way of life. It’s not a vacation – but an odd new reality, and that can be difficult – especially when it comes to prioritizing our health.

Since I was in a boot – due to a stress fracture caused by over-training for a marathon, I threw away everything that was important to me since I couldn’t really exercise once pools closed. I was eating inflammatory foods, not moving and not prioritizing the things that keep me healthy. As I finally adjust to this new reality – I have been re-focusing on ways to boost my immune system, reduce inflammation and anxiety. Food is an excellent mechanism to do this.

The problem I often hear, is the abundance of information out there. All sorts of confusing research about too much supplementation, not enough supplementation, don’t take extra vitamins, eat this, not that etc. etc. So, instead of recommending that you stock up on Vitamins, I am sharing with you the foods and nutrients that help me re-adjust and re-focus on my health.

Below I have put together a list of vitamins and foods I like to eat when I am trying to boost my immune system and lower my inflammation systems. These foods simultaneously help balance out the probiotics in my stomach – and a healthy gut is a healthy body and a healthy mind. You will also see some bonus recipes below!

  1. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an essential immune boosting vitamin. Not only does it help control infections, but it can neutralize harmful free radicals in your body that may cause viruses. In recent studies, those who have adequate Vitamin C levels reduce incidence rates of acute respiratory infections by roughly 35% and are likely known to shorten duration of flu-like symptoms thus improving the rate of recovery. Vitamin C is needed to do the following things:

  • Make Hormones
  • Create chemical messengers used in brain and nerves
  • Make collagen (the fibrous protein in connective tissue weaved through various ystems in the body)
  • Support the body and its natural immune response.

You can get Vitamin C in the following ways:

  • Vegetables: Red Peppers, Spinach, Broccoli (these foods also help reduce anxiety and inflammation)
  • Fruits: Strawberries, Citrus, Mango, Papaya, Kiwi

2. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is necessary for regulating the immune system. Currently, studies are being done that are proving that high levels of Vitamin D can be beneficial in lowering the odds of developing acute respiratory tract infections by almost 3x lower levels of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for those who have pre-existing conditions to help strengthen their immune system. In general, Vitamin D is needed to:

  • Maintain healthy bone strength by helping the body absorb calcium
  • Assist the immune system in fighting off invading bacteria and viruses

You can get Vitamin D in the following ways:

  • Go outside and get at least 30 minutes of direct sunlight (without sunscreen on ) every single day!
  • Foods: Probiotics that come from yogurt (this can be done without dairy!), Mushrooms, Plant-Based milks.

3. Zinc

Zinc is a superpower vitamin when it comes to boosting the immune system. In a recent study, zinc supplementation has been seen to reduce incidence rate of acute respiratory infections by 35%, and shorten the duration of symptoms. Zinc is needed for the following:

  • Supporting normal functioning of immune cells
  • Increase white blood cell strength

You can get Zinc in the following ways:

  • Eating nuts and seeds such as almonds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds.
  • Legumes! – Beans & Lentils

Some tips on how to eat for boosting immunity – food specefics!

Red Bell Peppers

Red bell peppers can be super delish raw with some sort of sauce or dressing as a snack, but can also be used in TONS of dishes. You can slice them up and put them in a salad, or use in a stir fry. They can also be roasted and blended to make pasta sauce out of them. I am making it a goal to eat 3 Red peppers a week. Here are some awesome recipes with Red Peppers in them that you should try!

Roasted Red Pepper Pasta

Roasted Red Pepper Chickpea and Spinach Curry

Lentil Stuffed Red Peppers

Broccoli

I am not a huge fan of raw broccoli, but I love it steamed with a little bit of nutritional yeast and soy sauce on top – or sautéed with garlic as a simple side to any dish. I also love adding it to stir fry’s and curry’s. I also buy a ton of frozen broccoli so that I can always add this if I need some greens. Here are some of my favorite broc recipes:

Creamy Broccoli Salad

Cheesy Broccoli Rice Casserole

Oven Roasted Broccoli

Strawberries & Other Citrus

Not only are strawberries high in vitamin C – in fact, 1/2 cup of strawberries = 50% of your daily Vitamin C, but they are also really great for improving cognition and memory when eaten daily. Strawberries and other Citrus fruits can be eaten raw, over granola or vegan yogurt, added to toast with peanut butter, served in salad, or made as a base to a smoothie bowl or smoothie. Don’t underestimate the power of some sweet to your savory dish! Here are some of my favorite recipes with some Vitamin C rich fruits:

Avocado Strawberry Spinach Salad

Strawberry Banana Smoothie Bowl

Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon Zest

Spinach

Believe it or not, spinach doesn’t have to be eaten just steamed. The best way to consume it, however; is to lightly cook it or eat it raw. I like to use it as a base for a salad, slightly cooked on the side with some nutritional yeast, or blended into a smoothie. Here are some awesome spinach centered recipes:

Spanish Spinach with Chickpeas

Vegan Spinach Mac & Cheese

Spinach and Mushroom Quinoa

Mushrooms

AKA my favorite food – these fungi are good raw, cooked, added to a salad, put in stir fry’s, baked, or as a side dish with a few simple seasonings. I LOVE the shrooms. They have epic immune boosting properties, like increasing the production of white blood cells to fight infection – and are totally a superfood.

Cream of Mushroom Soup

30 minute Portobello Mushroom Stir-Fry

Garlicky Mushroom + Kale with Linguine

Spices and Herbs

Making sure you are spicing your food strategically right now, is super essential for good health. Some go-to’s are ginger, garlic, turmeric – all immunity boosting items that also reduce stress and inflammation. Use them with any of the above, pop them in a smoothie, or follow these recipes:

Honey Ginger tofu and Veggie Stir Fry

Carrot Ginger Turmeric Smoothie

Vegan Bone Broth