How Plants Boost Your Immune System

I’ve been receiving a lot of questions about how to boost your immune system to help prevent the coronavirus.  While I can’t guarantee that you won’t get the virus, here are some of the ingredients that may give your body a fighting chance.

First of all, what is your immune system? It is a conglomerate of cells, tissues and organs working together to help fight off germs. It helps your body recognize foreign invaders. Foreign invaders may include bacteria, viruses or other toxins.

How does the immune system help protect our body? White blood cells are an important part of protecting our body from disease.  This includes the phagoyctes that destroy invaders and lymphocytes that helps the body remember the invaders and destroys them before they can infect you. The T Cells are probably the most important white blood cell in protecting our body from the coronavirus, because they can tailor our immune system to fight against viruses our body has not seen before. They eat them up!

So how can you boost your immune system during this challenging time? Stay physically fit – it raises your levels of T Cells, limit alcohol and get enough sleep.  And of course, eat more plants!

The best plants to consume:

1. The White Ones: A chemical found in white color vegetables (specifically garlic and onions); called allium can significantly boost your immune system. It does this by increasing your white blood count significantly and therefore your ability to fight off disease. Eating 2-3 cloves of garlic a day can give your immune system a big boost. Raw garlic of course is the best choice, but some people cannot tolerate it raw, so adding it towards the end of cooking is best. Plus, cutting the garlic and letting it sit for 10 minutes before using will significantly increase the amount of allium that is released.

Onions are also rich in anti-oxidants to help protect bacteria and viruses from attacking our cells. The darker the onion, the more antioxidants it contains. This means the white onions contain the lowest amount, the yellow have more and the red onions have the most. The onions that have the strongest flavor and therefore make us cry; are also the richest in anti-oxidants. Probably the best onion to consume to boost our immune system is the scallions or green onions with a white bulb. These onions are the closest to their original wild form and have about 140 TIMES the amount of anti-oxidants in them.  Eating at least ½ cup of onions at a meal is the recommended amount.

2. The Pungent Ones: Yes, this includes garlic and onions but also the other strong flavored vegetables like ginger and hot peppers. Fresh ginger contains the active compounds phenolic and terbene that help keep the virus from attaching to our cells which stops the virus it in its tracks. It is especially important for preventing respiratory infections like those found in the coronavirus. These active ingredients also help combat chills and fever. The recommendation is about 1 teaspoon of fresh ginger a day to give your immune system a nice boost.

Hot peppers contain the compound capsaicin, an active ingredient responsible for its heat with anti-inflammatory properties. It contains anti-viral properties but also slightly raises our body temperature, which triggers our immune system to take action. The recommendation is to eat hot chili peppers at least 4 times a week (a couple of slices at a time).

3. Soluble Fiber: There are two types of fiber, the insoluble and soluble ones. Insoluble fiber isn’t absorbed and passes quickly through our digestive system. It bulks up our stool with water and makes it easier to pass.  Soluble fiber on the other hand, takes a longer time moving through our digestive system. It dissolves in water to form a gel (think oatmeal in water) which binds to and carries toxins out of our body.   It also helps protect the lungs from viruses, reduces inflammation and boosts our immune activating T cells. Foods that are rich in soluble fiber include oats, apples, beans, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, broccoli, pears and many other grains and fruits and veggies.

4. Resveratrol rich foods: Resveratrol is a powerful anti-oxidant found in a lot of red, blue or purple colored fruits.  Fruits that contain the highest amount of resveratrol include elderberries, wild blueberries, goji berries, raspberries, cranberries and pomegranates.  Oh and yes, red wine!  Resveratrol keeps viruses from infiltrating our cells and spreading. If you’re looking for an added dose to boost your immune system, consider a whole food liquid supplement that contains a lot of the red berries.

Fun Fact: Sales of elderberry syrup has doubled during the coronavirus outbreak.

5. Herbs and spices: Many herbs and spices, especially as an oil have antiviral properties.

For Example:

      • Oregano contains the compound carvacrol which has been shown to inactivate stomach viruses.
      • Ingredients in the leaves and stem of the sage plant have been shown to prevent viruses from entering cells.
      • Rosemary contains the plant compound oleanolic acid which may keep the virus from attaching to our cells.
      • Curcumin is the bright yellow compound that is responsible for the color of the spice turmeric. One of the main benefits of turmeric is that it reduces inflammation and fights off infection.
      • Cinnamaldehyde, the compound found in cinnamon that is responsible for its flavor and smell has been shown to inhibit the growth of viral infections.

And there are many, many more!

6. Tea: Tea contains powerful disease fighting properties that keep infection at bay. Black tea contains the naturally occurring compounds including polyphenols that can hinder a virus from infecting our cells. Green tea is the most anti-oxidant rich tea and therefore, a stronger anti-viral tea, because it is kept from being exposed to oxygen that changes the color to black, which reduces the amount of antioxidant properties it has in it. It contains catechins that possess antiviral properties that keep the virus from infecting our cells and increasing T cell function so it can do its job.

This is only a short list of anti-viral rich plant foods and ingredients, but hopefully it will give you enough of an idea to get started. If you would like more information on anti-viral foods during the coronavirus outbreak, please reach out.  An Ounce of Nutrition is offering free anti-viral rich foods advice during over the next month.

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