If you’re a working mom, you’ll know just how tough life can sometimes be – juggling household chores, busy kids, a demanding career and a relationship is no small feat. Unfortunately, all these demands can affect your immune system, your body’s most important defense mechanism. This can be particularly problematic in winter, when closer proximity to other people (even your own sick kids!) exposes you to more viruses and bacteria.
Your immune system is designed to detoxify your body and protect it from illness and foreign invaders such as toxic chemicals, pesticides and pollution. It also protects you against the stresses you encounter every day. When your body has too much to deal with (think stress, too little sleep and poor nutrition), it no longer efficiently gets rid of waste and needs more support in helping it fight off whatever is attacking it. Once weakened, your immune system is no longer able to ward off illness as it should, making you more susceptible to a range of conditions – from colds and flu to chronic health problems.
Leading up to winter (in fact, right throughout the year), it’s best to preserve your immune system, do what you can to ensure it’s empowered in every possible way, and be clever about the ways in which to maximise and activate it. By following a healthy diet and lifestyle, minimising toxic food exposure, and topping up with some of the immune boosters listed below, your immunity can reach its full potential. Yes, food can be your medicine if you know how to apply it correctly!
Regularly tuck into these natural immune boosters, all easily obtainable from a grocery or health store near you, and reap the rewards in the form of a strong immune system, healthy skin, more energy and better mood:
Immune-boosting “superherbs” can be taken regularly like food. One good example is Moringa, a plant that’s native to the foothills of the Himalayas. Another is ginseng, which is known throughout the world for its energy-restoring and strength-building properties. It’s a so-called “adaptogen” that helps the body to adapt to stressful everyday conditions.
These are plant foods that are particularly high in health-boosting nutrients. Superfoods to include in your diet are:
- Camu camu, a small fruit native to the Amazon rain forest. It’s one of the most concentrated sources of vitamin C and a powerful antioxidant. This superfood can be taken daily with lemon and honey as an immunity elixir, and is ideal for kids as it can be added to drinks, is free of sugar, and can be dosed according to requirements.
- Baobab is a fantastic source of dietary fibre, which acts as “food” (prebiotics) for the friendly bacteria in your gut that play an important role in immunity (more about this later). Baobab contains pectin (a form of fibre), calcium, vitamin C and iron, thus making it a potent immune-boosting food.
- Mushrooms have been used as natural immune boosters for centuries. The Japanese ones are particularly powerful as they’re packed with ergothianeine, a form of vitamin D and an antioxidant that’s not destroyed during the cooking process. Mushrooms increase the production and activity of the white blood cells, which fight infections. Shiitake, Maitake and Reishi appear to be most effective and can be eaten daily.
3. Probiotics, prebiotics and cultured foods
The digestive tract, your immune system’s frontline defense, relies on live bacteria (or “microflora”) to work efficiently. Both pre- and probiotics support immune health by promoting the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria, and should be incorporated into your diet every day.
Probiotics are foods or dietary supplements that contain billions of beneficial bacteria in living form. Once ingested, they deliver the beneficial bacteria into the colon, where they increase in number and promote health by competing with disease-causing germs. Prebiotics complement the action of probiotics by acting as “food” for the live bacteria.
An excellent source of probiotics is plain, cultured yoghurt – something that’s well worth eating every day – while good sources of prebiotics include asparagus, banana and chicory. Other good sources of both pre- and probiotics include fermented, cultured foods such as kimchi, kombucha, guar gum, sauerkraut and kefir.
4. Colourful fruits and vegetables
Plants contain thousands of natural compounds called phytochemicals that help protect them from germs, fungi and other threats. These chemicals can also protect you.
Bring colour into your meals with the full colour spectrum of fruits and vegetables, and you’ll ensure that your diet contains many potent antioxidants. Go for organic and seasonal fruit and vegetables if you can, as these tend to hold more nutrients. Plant foods that dazzle you with their colours are also best eaten raw.
The most powerful of all foods in its level of antioxidants (specifically phytochemicals called anthocyanins) are found in the berry family, e.g. blueberries, blackberries, cranberries and strawberries. Anthocyanins give berries their rich, deep colours (e.g. deep red or purple). What’s more, berries also contain impressive amounts of vitamin C.
Examples of other phytochemicals – and their food sources – include:
- Yellow-coloured carotenoids in sweet potato and yellow pumpkin.
- Red-coloured lycopene in tomatoes and guava.
- White allicin in garlic.
- Quercetin in onions.
- Resveratrol in red grapes and red wine.
5. Green tea
Regularly sip on green tea. Thanks to the antioxidants in the tea, among them the powerful catechins, the popular Chinese beverage helps to keep inflammation in check, scavenges for disease-causing free radicals in the body and protects the cells against DNA damage.
The mineral and antioxidant zinc is an often overlooked, yet extremely important immune booster. It aids healing and keeps infections at bay. It’s found predominately in beef, which is why vegetarians should pay close attention to their zinc intake. Another good source is pumpkin seeds.
7. Detoxifying agents
Some compounds aid the body in its detoxifying process. In this way, it reduces the load on the immune system. One example is chlorophyll, an antioxidant found in all green vegetables, including chlorella – a natural green micro-algae. To reap the benefits, munch on greens as much as possible…
8. Whey protein
Whey protein that’s isolated from milk is highly available to the body and contains potent antioxidants called glutamate and cysteine. Both are precursors to glutathione, which enhances the functioning of your immune system.
Whey-protein powders are easy to add to breakfasts and shakes, especially if you wish to increase and maintain your overall resilience when exercising.