While you were busy ordering in ‘healthy meals’ or dining out at exclusive vegan restaurants, you were missing out on one thing that directly impacts your immune system: Superfoods.
The need of the hour may be sustainability that is both useful to our bodies and our home (the world) but to achieve those basics, we need to concentrate on immune-boosting superfoods that don’t even belong to a particular food group. Superfoods are foods — mostly plant-based but also some fish and dairy — that are thought to be nutritionally dense and thus good for one’s health.
The body is an open book and whatever you’ve been nourishing it with (or lack thereof) will be put to the test in times of an outbreak. Of the entire body, your immune system is responsible for taking care of these pathogens before they have a chance to really settle in and call your body home. This triggers the release of antibodies, which attach to the pathogen’s antigens before killing them.
If you’re a sucker for junk food, chances are your immune system is an open-house waiting to be thoroughly ravaged by the trendiest virus of the season. Here are some of the best immune-boosting superfoods you should incorporate in your diet before that happens.
You’ll know this potent spice for giving many Indian and Middle Eastern dishes their unique flavour, but the ‘Golden Spice of India’ works just as well as an immunity-boosting superfood. Long used in Ayurveda for its antiseptic and analgesic properties, turmeric is also another line of defence against colds and seasonal flus thanks to curcumin, the active polyphenol found in the spice.
Pro tip: For all its worth, turmeric has, quite unfortunately, a low absorption rate in the body as it’s absorbed directly into the stomach wall instead of the bloodstream. There are, however, ways to cheat the system a little; the piperine found in black pepper is said to enhance curcumin absorption by up to 2,000 percent and can increase the immunomodulating capacity of the body in the long run. Otherwise, just add yours to a smoothie and call it a day.
Here’s an excuse to make those brownies. Walnuts are not only rich in essential omega-3 fatty acids (read: powerful inflammatory cardiovascular disease fighters), but also antioxidant phenols which combat free-radical damage. Most importantly, it contains high levels of a special form of vitamin E called gamma-tocopherol, which is fundamental for the immune system to fight off invading bacteria and viruses.
Pro tip: Walnuts can be unpleasant for their astringent, mouth-puckering taste, but soaking them in water rinses away the tannins to reveal more buttery-tasting nuts.
This is an easy one, and chances are you’re already having it everyday. Garlic has been used by many civilisations over centuries for not only flavouring foods, but to fight infections. An active compound called allicin is present in garlic, which easily converts into other sulphur-containing compounds that boost the disease-fighting response of white blood cells in the body when there’s a virus.
Pro tip: Crushing your garlic before eating it is said to increase the allicin content within, while letting it stand for 10 to 15 minutes catalyses the formation of these healthy organosulfur compounds.
Now synonymous with plenty of detoxing regimens, kale has sealed its reputation for being a powerhouse of nutrition with its multitude of vitamins, antioxidants, and calcium. As a superfood, the leafy cruciferous vegetable is well-equipped to protect the body from free radicals and oxidative stress, working with its manganese content to boost levels of superoxide dismutase, an enzyme which again helps furthers the anti-free radical cause. Besides eventually saving you from cancer, these properties will also prep your body for other unwanted invasions such as viruses, making it one of the best greens that can be had now.
Pro tip: Massaging your kale with your hands (yes, really) for three to five minutes in a salad bowl with olive oil and lemon juice can help break down its fibres to become less tough and bitter. Nutrients also start breaking down the moment the kale is harvested, so try to buy yours at a farmer’s market or reputable farm source instead of at the grocery store, which might’ve taken several days to get there.
Goji berries might have long been used as a medicinal plant in ancient China, but the tiny scarlet fruit has been exalted beyond its TCM status to become one of the most potent superfoods today. Also known as wolfberries, goji berries contain polysaccharides, which help improve immune function and total antioxidant activity in the body. The presence of zeaxanthin —which gives the berries their colour — not only promotes macular health but also gives your immunity a boost.
Pro tip: The superfood equivalent of a raisin can be eaten dried as a snack, but if you’re not into its tart chewiness, soaking them in hot water or tea for a few minutes will rehydrate them.
This article first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Kuala Lumpur.