The Way to BE

Eating Your Way to Stronger Immune Function!

Maintaining a healthy immune system can be as straightforward as diet.

Leona West, a certified Nutritionist, Herbalist, Fitness Trainer, and Birth Doula who specializes in functional medicine, explains that eating for immunity can be as simple as eating local and seasonally available foods.

When we eat according to the season, we eat fruits and vegetables that are naturally abundant during specific times of the year.

For example, in the cooler months of the year we see more hearty greens, yams, and gourds. Whereas in the summer, foods that naturally complement warm weather, such as watermelon and strawberries, are more common.

Leona tells us that, “When you eat foods that are local and in season, they will always carry the most amount of antioxidants. And antioxidants are key to maintaining the strength of the immune system.”

Get Familiar with Herbs and Spices

Check out your local farmer’s market to get the scoop on what is fresh and in season. Don't forget to use herbs and spices when preparing your food to promote hearty immune function thanks to their high antioxidant activity!

Herbs and spices are one key component to immunity that is largely ignored in the American diet. Besides giving depth and dimension to food, herbs and spices actually promote health and hearty immune function.

Leona points out that, “Herbs and spices actually carry higher amounts of antioxidant activity than some of the high antioxidant foods that we think of, like blueberry and pomegranate.”

“When you are eating with herbs and spices, you are automatically nourishing your immunity because you are bringing a lot of antioxidant activity to each meal.”

The cooler months of the year are notoriously known as cold and flu season. Herbs that have a natural, and powerful, antimicrobial function in the body are the herbs we typically see accompanying holiday dishes: thyme, rosemary, and oregano.

It is helpful to remember that incorporating herbs and spices into your meals does not require any radical shift in diet. In fact, it can be as easy as sprinkling fresh thyme over baked squash.

The top 3 herbs to begin to incorporate are:

  1. Ginger
  2. Turmeric
  3. Oregano

Temperature Matters

In Chinese medicine, all foods, spices, herbs, and even medicinally used stones and shells have a temperature. This temperature imparts a quality of hot or cold in the body.

While the herbal system used in Chinese medicine is extraordinarily complex, it is also based on daily observations of the natural world.

For example, many foods that flourish during the summer months are cooling. Eating these foods can bring balance to the body by harmonizing the internal environment with the external environment.

This is why many of us are drawn toward a steaming cup of tea during the cooler months. In addition to offering a potent antioxidant boost and being rich in tannins, which have an antimicrobial function, tea literally brings warmth to the body.

Eat Local

Eating local goes beyond supporting your immediate community.

For example, local bee products can profoundly influence immune function. This is especially true during the spring season, when allergies and asthma have a tendency to flare up. While honey will have too much sugar if you are suffering from candida, you can still reap the immune regulating benefits by choosing to use local bee pollen, propolis, and royal jelly.

When shopping for local foods, keep in mind that we now have access to foods that have been shipped from all over the world. This means that at the market we can typically find any food we desire, in spite of the season.

If you would like to get an idea of what fruits and vegetables are fresh and seasonal in your area:

  • Shop at your local farmer’s market. Whatever is on the tables at your famer’s market is typically what is in season. And while you can buy the same seasonal foods at your local grocery store, check and see where the food was originally grown.

    Many stores now label where food is sourced, or you can even find this information on the PLU (price look-up) sticker that dots certain fruits and vegetables. This information is important. Locally grown food has not been shipped halfway across the globe, and it is therefore picked closer to its peak of maturity. This means that it has maximum nutrient value and that its nutrients, specifically antioxidants, are still active.

  • Look into Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). If you find that your schedule cannot accommodate the times when the farmer’s market is up and running, you can also subscribe to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in your area.

    CSA is a great way to get to know your farmer and what is growing locally in your area. In addition, the produce available through CSA is typically extremely fresh, flavorful, and organic or wild-crafted. Like farmer’s markets, some CSA programs also offer eggs, dairy, or meat to their customers.

What to Remember Most About This Article:

Boosting the health of your immune system is often as simple as changing the way you eat. When you eat according to season, you will naturally select fresh fruits and vegetables that are abundant during specific times of the year. Local, seasonal foods contain the largest amount of antioxidants to strengthen the immune system.

Additionally, using herbs and spices is one key way to boost immunity and improve the flavor of your food. Herbs and spices contain large amounts of antioxidants to rival many top antioxidant foods, like pomegranates and blueberries.

To start eating fresh, local foods to boost your immune function, you can use the following tips:

  • Shop at local farmer’s markets for what is in season.
  • Consider Community Supported Agriculture programs to access fresh, flavorful, locally grown foods.

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  • Nick

    Local/Organic. It might be harder to find an organic farm in your area but they without doubt exist. Just get in the underground, ask around at Whole Foods Markets and local health food produce stores. And though expensive Whole Foods does do a great job of supplying organic local produce when they can. Look on for a local organic farmers market, or any farmers markets and swing by and ask some of the farmers the conditions of their growing! Eating in season and locally will sky rocket your health.

  • Gigi

    I have been buying organic produce for many years and am confused about the recent advice to "buy local" . In the summer months I have access to local produce - but is it healthier to buy local produce that has been farmed with artificial fertilizers and pesticides? Are the local veggies better nutrition? Not everyone has access to local "organic" farmers. What is the best option?

  • Bryan

    Tina — have you looked at local farmers who use hoop or green houses to grow produce in the winter? ...just a thought. Many farmers grow crops (kale, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, turnips, etc.) through the winter.

  • Rocio Packard

    Agree with Tina, also buying local doesn't always mean free of pesticides.

  • Tina

    While this article is true for areas that are in temperate climates, here in the North, nothing grows in the snow. We have to rely on produce from out of state and often times, they are not at their best nutritionally. Often times, we have to rely on supplements to help get the vitamins and minerals needed.

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