Let’s Talk Food: Foods that can boost your immunity

  • Photo by AUDREY WILSON Pumpkin soup with ginger, garlic and shiitake mushrooms.

With the cold and flu season at its peak right now, we need to be vigilant about keeping healthy and boosting our immunity against these viruses.

The foods we eat are a source of energy to fuel every cell in our bodies. They provide nutrients for physical growth and repair and enable our bodies to produce a variety of substances, such as enzymes, hormones and neurotransmitters that are essential for our bodies to function. We can help fight viruses by eating healthy and letting food be our medicine.

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The Healthy Eating Pyramid suggests we eat six to 11 servings of unrefined starchy foods such as brown rice, beans, root vegetables, bananas, whole grains and foods made from whole grain, such as whole-grain bread and pasta. Complex carbohydrates are a ready source of energy and contain vitamins and minerals.

We should eat at least three to five daily servings of vegetables and two to four servings of fruits. Choose fruits and vegetables with a range of colors because different plant pigments offer different health benefits. Fruits and vegetables supply fiber, minerals and some essential fatty acids.

Eating four to six daily servings of protein-rich foods, which include poultry, fish, eggs, low-fat dairy products, lean meat, nuts, beans and bean products such as tofu, is needed for cell growth and repair and the production of antibodies, hormones and enzymes.

We should restrict our fat intake to no more than 30 percent of our total calories. This includes fats hidden in foods and used for cooking. Fatty salmon and ahi is good and better than the fat from meat. Good fats provide fatty acids that are vital for cell structure and contain fat-soluble vitamins.

Sweets should be only an occasional treat. A little honey or maple syrup is better than white sugar to sweeten foods. Sweet foods provide quick energy and sometimes trace amounts of minerals.

There are specific items in foods that are great to build your immunity against viruses.

Zinc is a mineral that keeps the immune system strong, helps heal wounds and supports normal growth. Studies found that taking a zinc lozenge can reduce the duration of a cold, perhaps as much as 50 percent, and can reduce the number of upper respiratory infections in children. Here in America, we don’t have zinc deficiencies like in poor countries as foods rich in zinc include oysters, beef, lamb, toasted wheat germ, spinach, pumpkin seeds, squash seeds, nuts, dark chocolate, pork, chicken, beans and mushrooms. However, lactating and pregnant women, adolescents, infants and children have increased requirements so might need to take supplements of zinc. The current recommended daily amount of zinc is 15 mg.

Sulfur is a mineral critical to the human body. It helps build amino acids and vitamins and is critical to healthy development of skin, bones, nerve cells and other tissues. It maintains cardiovascular, joint and liver health and can help prevent cancer. The three top sulfur-rich foods are mushrooms, onions and cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage and kale. Garlic also contains sulfur, which helps our body better absorb the zinc in foods.

Vitamin D foods include shiitake mushrooms, Hamakua mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and button mushrooms. A 3-ounce serving of salmon, herring, sardines, ahi or catfish can provide you with 90 percent of your recommended daily amount of Vitamin D. Eggs provide 21 percent of your Vitamin D needs.

But thank goodness we live in Hawaii, as sunshine can help your body increase Vitamin D levels. When sunshine hits the skin, it stimulates the production of Vitamin D from cholesterol.

There are a lot of studies about Vitamin C, but the findings are not consistent. Overall, experts find little to no benefit in Vitamin C preventing or treating a cold.

However, a deficiency of Vitamin C results in a reduced resistance againest certain pathogens, so it’s been found that Vitamin C can help to prevent more serious complications, which helps prevent you from getting sick.

According to ActiveBeat website, the eight immune boosting foods are:

1. Pumpkin, which contains essential nutrients that will guard against colds and germs as it is packed with Vitamin C, folate, antioxidants, zinc, beta-Carotene and omega-3 fats.

2. Cinnamon, which has a long history of treating stomach ache, stomach flu, nausea and colds because it has natural antibacterial and antiviral properties.

3. Garlic, which contains allicin, a chemical compound that prevents all sorts of flu viruses, fungi and bacterial infections.

4. Ginger root, which if added to warm water of herbal tea can soothe a raw throat, quell a stubborn cough because of a cold, ease nausea and subdue digestive upset.

5. Parsnips, which are rich in Vitamin C and potassium.

6. Apples, which have ant-inflammatory and anti-allergenic benefits in each bite.

7. Cayenne pepper, which eradicates bacteria and flu viruses before they start. An existing cold also can be fought with mixing cayenne in water with lemon to calm cough and break up chest congestion.

8. Sweet potatoes. With their low glycemic index, Vitamin C and beta-Carotene, they help protect you from cold and flu infections.

So, I am here in my kitchen “lab” trying to make something that includes pumpkin, sweet potatoes, garlic, ginger root, parsnips, cayenne (perhaps a soup?), apples and cinnamon (a dessert?) that will fight the cold and flu.

Foodie bites

Hawaii Community College’s Bamboo Hale is featuring the foods of Mexico as well as the Americas standard menu this week. It is open 11 a.m.-1 p.m. today through Friday. Next week, Feb. 6-9, will feature the cuisine of New Orleans. Reservations are requested; call 934-2591.

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Stay well!

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.