Unfortunately, there is no such thing as superfoods. Superfood was a term coined by The United Fruit Company in the early 20th century to help market bananas to a public that had recently gained access to a wide range of exotic fruits. Marketed as a diverse source of healthy nutrition, doctors endorsed this new superfood as a cure or preventative measure against a variety of illnesses and afflictions. One hundred years later, the term superfood describes a range of foods that are high in nutrients that keep us fit, healthy and disease-free. With such a wide array of foods touted as superfoods, it can be hard to tell which foods offer benefits and what nutrients are best to boost our immune system and leave us feeling fit and healthy. In this blog, I’d like to look into what foods you should be eating to boost your immune system, and what makes certain superfoods so super.
Nutrients for your immune system
Our immune systems rely on a constant supply of nutrients to help us keep strong and fight off disease. Without the right levels of diverse nutrients and vitamins, our immune systems struggle to stay robust and defend us from getting ill. There is no one singular superfood that contains every nutrient a healthy immune system requires. Instead, we need to ensure we are eating a healthy and varied diet that provides our immune system with the essential nutrients it needs. Some of the most important nutrients we need to support our immune system include vitamins A, B6, B12, C and D as well as copper, folate, iron, selenium and zinc. Many of these nutrients are available as supplements which do offer benefits, however, supplements not be used as a substitute for food and a varied diet offers a better way to top up your vitamin levels than supplements.
One of the obvious contenders for the best immune-boosting superfood is citric fruits. As many know, sailors discovered that citrus fruit could prevent scurvy and other diseases as long ago as 1497. However, it wasn’t until 1932 that Vitamin C was isolated and scientists begun to understand the importance of this vitamin in our diets. A single orange is said to contain nearly all the recommended daily dose of vitamin C you need to keep your immune system robust. Citrus fruits are also high in fibre which is good for your gut health which can improve digestion and aid weight loss.
Berries are a great way to boost your immune system. Loaded with antioxidants, berries can help boost your immune system due to their polyphenol content: the antioxidant which gives berries their bright and distinct colour. Polyphenols have been linked to lowering inflammation, enhancing immune response and preventing cell damage. Different berries have different levels of antioxidants and desirable properties so try and eat a variety.
Dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale or salad leaf are great for boosting your immune system. High in Vitamins A and C along with fiber, folate, iron and calcium leafy grains play an important role in fortifying your immune system. High in fibre and low in calories can help manage weight gain whilst also lowering your risk of serious conditions such as cancer or heart complications.
Garlic has been used for its medicinal and healthy properties for thousands of years. Much of garlic’s health benefits come from the release of sulphur when you chop, crush, or chew a garlic clove. Garlic has a range of positive benefits: it has anti-inflammatory properties, can reduce blood pressure, and improves cholesterol levels which may lower the risk of heart disease. Recent studies highlighted that in one study involving 41,000 women between the ages of 55 and 69, those who routinely ate garlic, fruits and vegetables had a 35% lower colon cancer risk.
Yoghurt and probiotics
Your immune system is fundamentally linked to your gut. Inside our guts, we have thousands of microbes that help break down food and absorb the minerals and vitamins we need to stay fit and healthy. It’s important to keep your gut fueled with good microbes to keep your digestive system functioning well. This is why yoghurt, probiotics and fermented foods are so important. Foods that have their own macrobiotic culture can help restore your gut to good health. If you’d like to know more about how gut health affects your immune system you can read more on our blog.
Nuts and seeds
Making nuts and seeds a regular part of your diet offers a range of health benefits including helping you to regulate your weight and help protect against chronic diseases. Nuts are a great source of unsaturated fats, a good source of animal-free protein, high in fibre and high in vitamins such as vitamin E, B6, Zinc and magnesium. Unsaturated fats found in nuts are far healthier than monosaturated fats found in other foods which protects against conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
How best to use superfoods
All of the foods listed above and more are regarded as superfoods, but how we prepare and consume these foods can impact how beneficial they are for us. Most foods offer more nutritional value raw than when cooked, raw garlic for example has been found to contain substantially more allicin (the healthy bit) than when cooked. If you do decide to cook superfood vegetables, keep the heat low and use limited oil to maximise their healthy potential.
The buzz surrounding the term superfoods can easily mislead us into thinking that the item of food is the most important thing to consider with diet. What we need to be mindful of is that all of these superfoods offer us certain minerals and vitamins that we should make a conscious effort to implement into our diets. By understanding what in superfoods makes them so “super” we can be mindful when shopping to make sure that we are providing ourselves with all the necessary nutrition to stay fit, mobile and healthy.