how to use food to boost immunity
The world of healthy living and supplements can be vast as well as confusing. People often ask, “what supplements should I take to optimize my immune system?” The answer can be layered. I believe the goal is to firstly consume a well-rounded, nutrient dense diet providing a vast majority of our needed vitamins and minerals and then use supplements for specific time frames when we need an added boost. When we consume isolated nutrients in the forms of supplements we are not consuming in an optimal way. Yes, for specific spans of time supplementation of vitamins A, C, E, D and such can help bolster the immune system, however for long term disease prevention we want to eliminate nutrient extremes and use food as our best medicine. In addition, when we consume food in a way that provides a rainbow of vitamins and minerals we are also building a robust microbiome in the gut eliminating the need for probiotic supplementation. See what I’m getting at here? Food is medicine.
What is meant by nutrient extremes? Let’s look at it this way to begin. When we supplement with high doses of a particular nutrient and we don’t look at how to incorporate an increase of that nutrient sustainably through diet then we can become dependent on the supplement and can experience peaks and valleys of said nutrient in our body. The goal of supplementation is to eventually wean off it rather than take large doses then stop completely.
Let’s look at Vitamin C for instance. A dose of 1,000mg of Vitamin C can help boost the immune system when fighting off an acute illness and addressing initial symptoms of a cold or flu. In someone with excess and heat signs and with high blood pressure / heart disease high dose vitamin C has been shown to reduce symptoms. To determine if someone has excess/heat signs and to monitor high doses a Chinese Medicine practitioner should be contacted (I can help you with that).
Here are some concentrated dietary alternatives to commercial supplements one can incorporate to optimize immunity and disease prevention.
Herbs: I choose and am trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine herbs where the use of herbal formulas can address acute and chronic dis-ease as well as balance and harmonize the system regardless of where one is on their health journey. Certain herbs can be used regularly in cooking to boost immunity, as well as balance the system. When using herbs it is essential to consult an herbalist in order to use herbs that are proper for one’s constitution. Some examples of commonly used dietary herbs are ginger, astragalus, chives, ginseng, goji berries, dang gui, and certain grains.
Eating high-quality, organic whole foods. Foods grown by local farmers in an organic or no-spray environment offer high amounts of nutrients. This does take some awareness of what is grown in your region as well as time, energy and resources to visit a local farmers market, however, the benefit is immense. Foods grown without pesticides are packed with nutrients and have higher amounts of vitamins and minerals because the soil they are grown in are richer than those on conventional agriculture.
Seaweeds: high potency mineral source. Plant sourced minerals are more easily assimilated by the body than those ingested through supplements. Adding seaweeds to soups, grains and cooking is a good idea as well as sprinkling seaweeds over meals or salads.
Chlorophyll and other dense greens: These are naturally occurring high doses of vitamins, bioflavonoids, and chlorophyll. Sources are wheat grass, barley, kales, and dark leafy greens. I suggest steaming leafy greens lightly to initiate the cooking process and making them easier to digest.
In conclusion, I want to say I love herbs and supplements and believe they can play a very helpful role in our health, however, they shouldn’t be a substitute for a healthy and health-ful meal. In full disclosure, I have gone through times in my life where I have taken daily vitamins to make sure I was getting the nutrients I needed because I didn’t have the time to put much focus on meal plans (thank you grad school!) and I still have many herbal formulas in different forms around my house. This is just a gentle reminder that the food we eat is often the medicine we need.