Eat to Boost Your Immune System

Eating Well Matters More Than Ever.

By Aimee Rein

At Terrain Health we believe in being proactive about your health to strengthen and support your immune system. Prevention and taking care of ourselves begins with nutrition. It is especially critical during this pandemic to consume the foods that are the most nutrient dense. There are supplements that we can take to help get nutrients into our bodies but our first line of defense is always with food. Below are the key nutrients we should be focusing on, and the nutrient-dense foods where you will find them. Do whatever you can to eat as many of these foods as possible, as often as possible. The foods that are being focused on mirror the supplements we are also recommending.

Probiotics: The health benefits of probiotic foods is essential. Our digestive system contains hundreds of different species of bacteria, both “friendly” and “unfriendly,” resulting in having both a positive and negative effect on our health. More than 70% of our important immune cells live in the gut and are dependent on healthy gut flora, so it is imperative that we encourage the good strains and avert the bad by consuming certain types of foods that naturally contain good bacteria. There are many options of probiotic foods such as organic, unsweetened yogurt and kefir, and fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, kombucha, tempeh and miso.

Vitamin D: A lack of Vitamin D negatively affects your immune system. Getting 15 minutes of sun exposure and including the following foods in your diet can help you get your daily requirement of vitamin D. Sockeye and wild salmon, canned sardines in oil, herring, mushrooms, pasture-raised eggs, cod liver oil, canned low-mercury tuna, and organic beef liver. Eating fortified foods is also an option such as fortified milk, orange juice, organic yogurt and cereals.

Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid): Since vitamin C is water soluble, your body doesn’t store it, so you should aim for a diet rich in fruits and vegetables to get a day’s worth of vitamin C. Oranges, grapefruit, green and red sweet peppers, broccoli (best prepared lightly steamed to obtain the greatest amount of available vitamin C), strawberries, kiwi, brussels sprouts, cooked cabbage, cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple, and tomato sauce or juice (tomatoes are a good source, but when concentrated Vitamin C is optimal).

Quercetin: It has been called “king of the flavonoids” because of its powerful antioxidant properties and its ability to support a healthy inflammatory response in the body. It is found in many foods that are recognized for their health benefits, such as leafy green vegetables, red onions, apples, olive oil, dark berries, black tea, grapes, capers, and culinary herbs such as dill, cilantro, watercress, and radicchio.

Melatonin: Focusing on eating melatonin-rich foods is essential to enhance the immune system. Tart cherries, bananas, pineapple, goji berries, nuts, seeds, pasture-raised eggs and wild fish are all foods that contain substantial amounts of melatonin.

Zinc: A healthy amount of zinc in your diet is essential for a strong immune system and studies have also linked proper zinc intake to reduced severity and duration of the common cold;. Adding these foods will give you good sources of zinc: Oysters, crab, lobster, lean grass-fed/finished meats, skinless organic poultry, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, legumes, steel-cut oats, quinoa, shiitake mushrooms, spinach, garlic and dark chocolate!

N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC): While NAC is only available in supplement form, this amino acid is found naturally in foods in its cysteine form. Add foods like organic chicken and turkey, yogurt, eggs, oatmeal, lentils and seeds.

Glutathione: To boost your glutathione levels consume sulfur-rich foods like garlic, onions and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, arugula, collard greens). Organic poultry and grass-fed/grass-finished beef are good sources as well.

Omega 3s: The best sources of omega-3 fats are cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, cod liver oil, herring, anchovies, as well as ground flaxseeds and ground chia seeds.

Curcumin (Turmeric): Turmeric is filled with curcumin, a powerful antioxidant with significant health promoting strengths. There are so many easy ways to add this powerful spice to your diet. You can buy the fresh root and grate it yourself or you can buy the ground spice in a jar. Try adding it to salads or salad dressings, rice, quinoa or eggs. Sprinkle it on an avocado with a little salt, pepper and enjoy like that, or mash it on top of sweet potato toast. Sprinkle it on vegetables with a little pepper (and any other warming spices) before roasting. When you are cooking with turmeric, it has been shown that by mixing it with some black pepper results in increasing the bioavailability of curcumin so your body can use it. Another simple way to use turmeric is to brew tea. Stir ½ tsp. grated or ground turmeric into boiling water, then let simmer for at least 10 minutes and strain before drinking. If you choose, add some honey or freshly squeezed lemon. And one of our favorite ways to enjoy the health promoting benefits of turmeric is to make golden milk. Simply heat up almond milk, turmeric, black pepper, and cinnamon in a small covered saucepan for about 10 minutes, then pour in a mug. Sprinkle with nutmeg or a little extra cinnamon.

Resveratrol: A natural compound found in grape seeds and skin and in red wine. Resveratrol was shown to be a potential antiviral agent against MERS-CoV infection.

Good food sources of resveratrol include red wine, red grapes, blueberries, peanut butter, pistachios, cocoa powder, and dark chocolate.

Selenium: Due to the soil being nutritionally depleted in the USA secondary to decades of over farming and failure to turn the soil over, many Americans have micronutrient deficiencies including selenium. Selenium is a key micronutrient needed for our immune system to effectively combat infection. For example, benign strains of Coxsackie and influenza viruses can mutate to highly pathogenic strains in people with selenium deficiency. The easiest (and in our opinion the most delicious) way to get the recommended dose of selenium through our diet is by eating two-three Brazil nuts daily. Brazil nuts are nutritional powerhouses, providing healthy fats, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that support our immune system, brain function, thyroid, heart health, and reduce inflammation. If you have a nut allergy, other food sources of selenium are pasture raised eggs, sardines, oysters, clams, halibut, salmon, shrimp, organic turkey or grass-fed/grass-finished beef.