The immune system is responsible for keeping the body healthy and protecting against sickness and infections.

When someone has a poor immune system, due to disease such as AIDS or cancer, they are more likely to get sick easily. Some people naturally have weaker immune systems, while others are exposed to an environment full of germs, such as a school or the office. We can be proactive and help to build our immune system by eating the right foods. And this time of year with recent flu outbreaks, it’s more important than ever to protect ourselves.

Mushrooms for antioxidants: Dr. Oz recommends Japanese mushrooms as an immune booster because of their antioxidants. Researchers at Penn State University have determined that all mushrooms are a potent source of an antioxidant metabolite, which can provide cellular protection throughout the body. All varieties are a good source.

Cruciferous vegetables and avocados: Cruciferous vegetables such as kale, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are known for their cancer-fighting compounds called glucosinolates. Consuming any cruciferous vegetables helps support the liver, the body’s major detoxification organ, and to flush out toxins. Dr. Oz also encourages eating one serving of avocado, or about one half cup each day, for their healthy fats that help balance adrenal hormone production.

The adrenal glands are another important immunity organ because some of the hormones they produce suppress inflammation and help regulate the body’s response to stress.

Ginger: Ginger is a rhizome commonly used to help digestion and treat upset stomach. A healthy digestive system is essential to prevent diseases from taking root in the body, according to Ayurvedic traditions. Ginger can be sautéed and added to meals or brewed into a tea. I like it in smoothies, too.

Olive oil: We’ve all heard about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, of which olive oil is a staple. Olive oil helps to build the immune system because it’s full of monounsaturated fats. One to 2 tablespoons of olive oil in foods each day is sufficient for strengthening the immune system.

Oranges and lemons: According to Dr. Bill Sears, a professor at the University of California at Irvine, oranges are truly one of the best foods to eat when you start to feel sick and want to speed up your recovery. This is because they are rich in vitamin C, with about 75 mg per medium orange. I also recommend lemons for their vitamin C content, and drinking warm water with a half of one each morning to boost your metabolism.

Turkey: Instead of only eating turkey at Thanksgiving time, eating it year-round may help to build up the immune system. Both white and dark meat turkey are rich in the mineral zinc. which help fight infections in the body. Bring on the turkey soup!

Broccoli: Broccoli is another healthy food for boosting the immune system. It’s full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which prevent free radical damage to the body. The Cleveland Clinic states that pollution, excess exposure to sunlight and cigarette smoke all damage the immune system by releasing free radicals. Eating vegetables such as broccoli helps to negate that damage and keep the immune system strong. Broccoli can be steamed, sautéed, grilled or even eaten raw with lemon dressing for a double dose.Broccoli Frittata “Muffins”

Makes 12.

I recently taught a cooking class featuring a recipe from each meal: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Frittatas are a great way to get several veggies into your diet, and can be consumed any time of day or night. I like to put them in muffin tins because they are easy to freeze and take on the go. Pair with a green salad or soup.

1 cup organic cheddar cheese, grated

1 1/2 cups broccoli, steamed but slightly firm, chopped

8 farm-fresh eggs

1/2 tsp. sea salt

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2 green onions, chopped

2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

2 Tbsp. milk (I use unsweetened oat)

1/2 tsp. paprika

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare a 12-cup muffin tin.

Sprinkle 1 Tbsp. cheese on bottom of cups. Cover cheese with broccoli. In a blender, combine eggs, salt, onions, parsley and milk. Blend until smooth, then pour mixture over broccoli until about 3/4 full. Sprinkle with paprika

Bake in preheated oven for 18-20 minutes. Test with toothpick.

Cool 10 minutes before serving.

Local chef and nutritionist Karen Schuppert is teaching another healthy and easy cooking class in February. For more information, contact her at Karen@karenschuppert.com

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