Boost Your Immunity

Boost Your Immunity

Contributed by Eve Persak, Nutrition Advisor, MS RD CNSC CSSD

Whether you can’t quite kick the sniffles you picked up over the summer holidays, you’re anticipating the back-to-school onslaught of germs, or you’d just like to avoid the flu, immune health is usually a big concern in September. 

Immune-boosting nutrition tips flood the Internet, magazines, and social media channels, but we often draw a blank by the time we hit the supermarket. Looking for a simpler way to focus your efforts and fill your grocery basket with healthful ingredients? Let the Great Outdoors inspire you. Think ‘gardens’, ‘parks’, and ‘backyards’. Turns out, Mother Nature has more than enough to cover you through this season – and the entire year. 



The old adage still applies, “don’t lose touch with your roots”. With their dull appearance and underground residence, it’s easy to discredit their nutritional value.  But their knobs and bulbs are chock-full of infection-fighting phytochemicals. The quercetin in onions, allicin in garlic, glycyrrhizin in licorice, curcumin in turmeric, echinacoside in Echinacea and gingerols in ginger have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties that rival some pharmaceutical drugs. 



No need to nibble on lawn clippings, but do give barley and wheat grass a shot. Easily available in powder form or capsules, they are loaded with antioxidants – like beta-carotene, vitamins E and C, and selenium. However, whole, fresh juice extractions (or “shots”) are more readily absorbed and include other helpful constituents – like fibres, enzymes and amino acids. Bonus tips: Always purchase from reputable sources – where grasses are fertiliser-free and properly washed. Gluten-sensitive individuals, however, should be wary. While the grasses are safe, the seeds contain gluten, and cross-contamination may bring on a reaction. 



Traditional Asian doctors have used fungi to treat a host of viral, bacterial and parasitic diseases for thousands of years. Beta-glucans are the medicinal substances responsible for their benefits. When eaten, these polysaccharides interact directly with cells along the GI tract to regulate and stimulate immune function.  Which mushrooms are best? Reishi, shiitake, and maitake mushrooms seem to be strongest contenders, and consuming them in combination is believed more effective than just one variety alone. 



Don’t be fooled by their size, these small siblings to nuts are powerhouses when it comes to boosting immunity.  Swap your zinc lozenges for sesame and pumpkin seeds. They offer more of this mineral than any plant-based source. Likewise, the omega-3 fatty acids in flax seeds and chia seeds are ideal for bolstering natural defences and keeping inflammation at bay. 



Say ‘yes’ to spinach, kale and collards. But don’t disregard other leafy greens – like fresh aromatic herbs.  Thanks to their emerald shades, these possess minerals and anti-microbial properties. Those at the top of the list: oregano (especially the oils), rosemary, parsley, mint, and basil.  Fortunately, their natural flavours supersede any bottled condiment and give soups, stews and sauce that extra punch. 



No, I’m not referring to creepy crawlies – but to bacteria. Populating your body – in particular, your gut – with beneficial micro flora has been proven to boost immunity.  Where can you find them? Cultured milk products like yogurt or kefir are rich sources. Look for “live active cultures” and a couple of bacteria names, such as lactobacillus or bifidobacterium, on labels. If you’re sensitive to dairy, soy and coconut products are suitable stand-ins. Fermented vegetables – like kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles and miso – are plant-based alternatives. While whole food sources are always encouraged, you can opt for supplements. To get your dollar’s worth, inspect the label on the bottle – you’ll want industry seals of approval, diverse blends of bacterial strains and high numbers of colony forming units (CPU’s).


To help you keep your immune system running strong, here’s some suggestions for healthful, immunity-boosting meals and snacks:

-       Miso soup with onion, shiitake mushrooms and sesame seed garnish

-       Fresh garlic and basil pesto sauce

-       Licorice or Echinacea tea infusions with a few slivers of fresh ginger

-       Vegetable salads with a sprinkle of chia or pumpkin seeds, and drizzle of miso-tahini dressing

-       Fresh herb and yogurt dip with flaxseed crisps