Our immune system is a fascinating and complex galaxy of cells, organs and fluids that help defend us against the millions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that bombard us in our daily lives.
Supporting our immune system with the right foods and nutrients as the seasons change is a powerful way of ‘arming ourselves’ against the immune challenges we face, reducing the risk of infection as well as shortening the duration and severity of colds and flu.
In this blog post, I'm going to take you through five of my favourite foods to support your immune system as we head into cold and flu season so you can stay well for longer and recover faster if you do get the sniffles, a head cold or nasty viral infection.
I aim to be as transparent as possible
This blog post contains links to products I recommend from Planet Organic as well as a discount code you are welcome to use, MARY15 for 15% off purchases (can be used multiple times).
I don't receive commission on the purchases you make but I do get to select my favourite items to showcase each month and these items are gifted to me in return.
The items are carefully selected by me (not by Planet Organic) and are brands and products I genuinely respect, regularly use myself and recommend frequently to clients.
Elderberry is one of my favourite anti-viral foods. Not only is it a beautiful colour and flavour but it has the ability to support immune function and exhibits anti-viral effects.
Elderberry contains phytochemicals, active chemicals which help blunt the ‘spikes’ on the outside of viruses, blocking the ability of the viruses to infect cells. Pretty amazing, right?! Check out this study of elderberry on influenza A and B for more details.
Furthermore, this meta-analysis (a review of all the existing small scale studies) on the effects of elderberry supplementation on upper respiratory symptoms showed that supplementation with a standardised elderberry extract is significantly effective at reducing the total duration and severity of upper respiratory symptoms, as compared to a placebo group.
The researchers also reported the strongest effect when elderberry is used in pre-treatment, during infection and post-infection, rather than when used solely during infection.
The health benefits of elderberry extend to the gut thanks to its polyphenol content. Polyphenols contribute to the beautiful deep purple colour and are anti-inflammatory to the gut. They make up my 3P's of gut health - polyphenols, prebiotics and probiotics. We want to consume all three to support a happier, healthier gut!
Here are two elderberry products I always keep on standby for immune support:Planet Organic
Medicinal mushrooms such as reishi, shiitake and maitake contain beta 1-3/1-6 glucans, polysaccharides which naturally occur in the cell walls of mushrooms (particularly in shiitake and maitake).
They are proven to support the immune system, making it more resistant to pathogens. They are particularly supportive against upper respiratory tract infections and colds.
Macrophages, the clean-up cells of your immune system, have receptors that specifically recognise beta 1-3/1-6 glucan because they occur in the cell walls of many bacteria and fungi.
Beta glucans are classed as "immuno-modulators". They interact with your immune system in a balancing way, up- or down-regulating immune functions as needed.
The benefits of mushrooms are well known historically and were prized for their healing properties, and anti-ageing properties. In Japan they were associated with longevity and eternal youth! Nowadays, thanks to advances in research, the benefits of medicinal mushrooms like Reishi, Shiitake, Maitake and Cordyceps are known to come from their beta glucan content and deliver anti-carcinogenic benefits.
While some bioactive compounds such as beta glucans are common to all medicinal mushrooms, each strain of mushroom possess its own combination of compounds that gives it unique healing qualities. Reishi mushroom for instance is well known for its powerful antioxidant effects and its ability to calm the nervous system.
Mushrooms may be a bit like Marmite – you either love them or hate them – but they have been found to be ‘immunoceutical’ hot houses!
If you loathe eating mushrooms, you can still benefit from their immune power by taking a food supplement. Choose from a fabulous selection of mushroom powders, capsules and even mushroom chocolate and mushroom coffee in Planet Organic. Great news if you struggle with the texture of eating mushrooms!
Harness their umami flavour in your cooking
I love to use organic dried mushrooms to make a miso soup, vegan bone broth or stock. They create a delicious depth of flavour.
I'm also a huge fan of stirring organic mushroom powder into my coffee or chicory latte without tainting the flavour. The powders are so versatile and a nice way to get a concentrated dose of beta glucans every day.
If you've any questions about how you could use some of these foods send me an email or message me on Instagram. I'd love to help. If you want to experience the immune benefits of mushrooms use 'MARY15' to receive 15% off anything at Planet Organic.
Increasing your intake of fermented foods is very worthwhile not just for the direct benefits to your your gut health but also for your immune health.
Each mouthful of fermented food provides trillions of beneficial bacteria. Allowing these good bacteria to flourish in your gut creates a powerful ally for your immune system, 80% of which lives in your gut.
Fermented foods include: raw unpasteurised kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, parmesan and miso paste (my personal favourite is this one by Clearspring).
If you're new to kombucha, this one by Jarr is delicious. Imagine your favourite ginger beer, only healthier, without the refined sugar and lots of probiotics for good gut health. Serve over ice in your favourite wine glass and ditch the foggy head and hangover this weekend. Cheers!
If you'd like to experience the gut and immune benefits of fermented foods at a discounted price use 'MARY15' and receive 15% off anything at Planet Organic
If you struggle to incorporate fermented foods into your diet you may enjoy my other blog post here. I also cover the differences between probiotic foods and probiotic supplements here.
Garlic is a fantastic, flavoursome food and a super cheap way to tackle infections of all sorts. It has antibacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties. Amazing!
Just make sure you're preparing it right! The secret is to eat it raw for greatest benefit. That's because cooking deactivates the antimicrobial enzyme in garlic known as allicin.
The best way to prepare garlic in order to get the most anti-microbial benefit is to crush the garlic with the back of a knife and leave it sitting in its skin for 10 minutes. This activates the allicin which is the enzyme that brings the immune benefits.
Where possible, eat garlic raw - such as in salad dressings or stir it into soups or casseroles at the end of cooking. This way you'll protect the allicin (which is deactivated through heat) and get maximum antimicrobial benefit from garlic.
Garlic is also a powerful prebiotic. Prebiotics feed probiotics, the friendly bacteria living in your gut microbiome. And as 80% of your immune system resides in your gut, it makes sense to support a healthy digestive system so that you have a healthy gut-immune response.
Already feeling like you're coming down with a cold or infection? Finely chop a peeled clove of garlic and eat/drink it before bed for strongest anti-microbial action.
Ginger is anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory and may help soothe inflamed throats or sinuses. Try juicing a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger with vitamin C rich carrots and orange. Or simply grate it into warm water with the juice of half a lemon. Add it to home cooked soups, stir-fries or curries for everyday anti-inflammatory support.
What about immune supplements?
There are quite a few to choose from and a number of nutrients in particular to consider at the first sign of cold, flu or other viral infection to reduce the severity and duration of illness. I cover more on specific immune supplements in this video.
Want to find out more about working with me?
I provide tailored supplement plans and nutrition protocols as part of my 90-day 1-1 programme, including recipes and inspiration for mealtimes. You'll find more details here.
Hello! Welcome to Stellar Health.