Over the last few weeks, we have all been affected by the recent COVID-19 crisis in our world. Whether we have been affected physically, mentally, financially, or otherwise, in one way or another this virus has impacted our daily routines and the everyday rhythm of life and I’d be remiss if I didn’t make mention of that in my writing.
Regardless of how we have been affected, one thing is for certain: we are all in this together. Our circumstances may look different and the effects of this crisis will have impacted each of us differently, but we are all going through a global crisis together. Do what you can to have grace for others, love one another, help each other, and be a help to someone that otherwise may not have someone in their life to watch out for them. Sometimes all it takes is a phone call or video chat, dropping off groceries for a neighbor who cannot go outside because of high-risk health issues, or playing music from your balcony to lift someone’s spirits (have you seen the videos of Italy? Breathtaking!). Let’s love one another.
It is important in times of crisis, especially a health crisis, to ensure that your health is a priority. You cannot care for others if you have not first taken care of yourself. Sometimes when our normal schedules are thrown off, we tend to go back to old habits or pick up bad ones. This is definitely not the time to couch surf and snack all day. This is not what your body needs. Eating healthy right now is important. Moving your body each day should be something at the top of your list. Taking a break from news headlines for a while is also a nice mental break. Staying informed and being overwhelmed are two different things.
I am a huge advocate for plant-based eating. This month I was going to write all about how plant-based diets are vitally important for the environment. While that is something I will still write about and still feel is very important information to share, I felt that this month it was crucial that we all take a look at what we are eating and how it can affect our immunity.
There is a saying that says “You are what you eat.” This is so true! You do not want to be a Cheeto, so put those Cheetos down! Now, I’m not saying take a stand and rally against the Cheeto company. I am cautioning against binge eating processed junk while you may be binge-watching your favorite shows on Netflix. There are better foods out there! And those better foods will be better for your health long-term and in the short-term make you feel better (physically and mentally) and help your immune system.
Here are a few plant-based foods you can keep on hand that will boost your immunity:
There is a compound called allicin in garlic, which increases the activity of white blood cells in the body and stimulates other immune cells as well. These white blood cells and immune cells fight viral, fungal, and bacterial infections like the human rhinovirus (which causes colds, common flu, and respiratory viruses). Allicin is actually released when you chop, chew, cut, or crush raw garlic cloves.
Allicin is also found in onions, and both garlic and onion go so well together, right? Onions also contain quercetin. Quercetin is a nutrient that breaks up mucus in your head and chest – no wonder your eyes and nose start to run when you cut onions! On top of that, the strong smell of onions actually increases your blood circulation and can make you sweat. If you eat raw onion within a few hours of feeling cold symptoms, it will have a strong immune effect.
I love ginger! Ginger is spicy and flavorful, and it has so many benefits (other than being delicious). It can help reduce fevers, soothe your sore throat, and it encourages coughing to remove mucus from the chest. Have you wondered what gives ginger that spicy kick? It is two anti-inflammatory chemicals called shagaol and gingerol that can actually stimulate your blood circulation and open your sinuses. Ginger is also extremely helpful for headaches and nausea.
If you love spicy foods, you may be helping your immune system and not even know it! The Cayenne family of hot peppers (there are a lot) contain capsicum. Capsicum has an abundance of vitamin C and bioflavonoids and helps fight cold and flu by increasing the production of white blood cells. Cayenne is also full of beta carotene and antioxidants that help build healthy mucus membrane tissue that defends against viruses and bacteria. The fresher the pepper, the more effective it is.
Like Cayenne, squash is a good source of vitamin C, however, quash contains six carotenoids. There have been many health benefits claimed regarding carotenoids, including decreasing the risk of various cancers, protecting the eyes and skin from the effects of ultraviolet light, and defense against heart disease. Butternut squash is the strongest source of these nutrients but there are many varieties of squash to choose from!
Leafy greens are one of my favorites and kale is no exception. Kale has a high dose of vitamin E. This antioxidant is said to increase the production of B cells, which are the white blood cells that kill unwanted bacterial.
There is a lot to be said for citrus fruit and adding them into your diet for the benefits of vitamin C. Vitamin C will help your body fend off that cold and flu. Eat those fruits whole and don’t buy the concentrated juice from the store, you want the real deal because that is where you will get the most health benefits from. There are a lot more foods that have even higher levels of vitamin C in them to help boost your immune system, but citrus tends to be the most readily available and affordable option for most people.
A powerful antioxidant called polyphenols (especially catechins) have been found to fight off common cold viruses and protect you from getting sick. Green tea is a potent source of these antioxidants.
If you miss your Chicken Noodle Soup while you’re sick, miso soup is a great alternative. It has wonderful healing properties and can help kick your immune system into high gear. Miso is loaded with enzymes and healthy bacteria that help fight infection and there is also something super comforting about this soup. Delicious!
Those white blood cells are what help our immune system and mushrooms, like most things on my list, help increase the production of those helpful cells. Not only do they increase production, but researchers have found that they increase their activity. Shiitake, maitake, chaga and reishi mushrooms appear to have the most immunity benefits.
There are so many foods that have a positive effect on your immune system and I know the list can go on. I am leaving you with a few more of my favorite foods to keep on hand:
- Broccoli – vitamin A, C and E and many antioxidants
- Almonds – Vitamin E
- Spinach – vitamin C, antioxidants, beta-carotene
- Papaya – Vitamin C
Here is a wonderful pasta recipe full of fresh veggies to help keep that immune system strong and healthy.
Farmers Market Vegetable Pasta
Pesto has such intense flavor that a little goes a long way. Fortunately, most of the prepared pesto sauces found in the refrigerator sections of the grocery store have the same ingredients as homemade pesto and are therefore still real food; just take a good look at the ingredient list to be sure. You’ll see I also have you cooking the pasta in the same water you use to cook the asparagus—this will boost the flavor of the pasta and will conserve a little water as well.
- 1 pound asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 pound whole wheat penne pasta
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 8 ounces water-packed or thawed frozen artichoke hearts, quartered
- 1 red onion, thinly sliced into rounds
- ¼ cup vegetable stock or your favorite white wine
- ¼ cup Christine’s Pesto (see recipe below) or store-bought pesto
- ¾ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Add the asparagus and boil for 1 minute.
- Remove the asparagus with a slotted spoon and run under cold water to stop the cooking.
- Bring the same pot of water back to a boil and add the penne.
- Cook until al dente, according to package directions.
- Drain and set aside.
- Heat an extra-large skillet over medium-high and add the oil.
- Add the asparagus, artichoke hearts, and onion and cook until the onion begins to caramelize, 5 to 7 minutes (if you don’t have an extra-large skillet, do this in batches).
- Add the stock or wine and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, scraping up all the browned bits from the pan.
- Stir in the pesto and cook gently until the pesto is evenly distributed.
- Add the pasta and toss with tongs until the vegetables and pasta are combined.
- Divide among 7 bowls and sprinkle with the mozzarella.
Nutrition facts per serving: 370 calories, 18 grams protein, 53 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams fat
- 2 cups tightly packed fresh basil leaves
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 garlic clove, crushed with the side of a knife
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Sea salt and ground black pepper
- Combine the basil, cheese, pine nuts, cayenne, and garlic in a food processor or blender.
- With the machine running, slowly pour in the oil.
- Blend until mixture looks bright green and thick, about 45 seconds.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Nutrition facts per tablespoon (makes about ½ cup): 71 calories, 1 gram protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, 7 grams fat (mostly good fats!)
Remember to move your body for at least 30 minutes a day. Children need even more activity! Go for a family walk around your neighborhood if you can practice safe social distancing. If that isn’t possible, do a high-intensity training unit in your house as a family (push-ups, sit ups, jumping jacks, plank holds, run in place, burpees, repeat). You can garden together, play active games in the yard – there are so many things you can do!
I pray that you and your family are safe and stay mentally and physically healthy during this time. We are all in this together.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27