We’ve all seen the posters that get plastered everywhere this time of year. “Get the flu shot! Wash your hands! Cough into your elbow!” But…when rumors start trickling out that the flu shot isn’t as effective this season or you find yourself gingerly gripping the handle of a shopping cart, you may start to wonder if you could do a bit more to keep yourself safe and healthy. Well, there is! Keep your immune system armed and at the ready with these three functional foods you can add to your cart: 1. Kombucha Raise of hands if you’ve heard the term “gut health” tossed around a lot lately. Your gut microbiome (the bacteria that resides in your colon) is a big deal. Having plenty of good bugs lining your intestine provides a barrier between your gut lining and any ingested pathogens. These good bacteria secrete antimicrobials, make vitamins for us, AND chomp on foods that are indigestible to us…only to spit out absorbable and beneficial compounds (1). With all this in mind, kombucha is one trend I am ALL ABOUT. Kombucha is a delicious, low-sugar way to get your probiotics (i.e., good bacteria). The more GOOD bacteria you’ve got in there, the less space and food is left for the BAD bacteria. A tip on purchasing: I like getting brands that list the actual strands of probiotics in there, like GT’s. Their gingerade is a good flavor to start with if you haven’t tried kombucha before. 2. Wheat Germ Wheat germ is the part of the wheat kernel that gets processed out when white flour is made. It is a powerhouse of nutrients, including vitamin E and selenium. These two antioxidants are buddies. When the immune system is in short supply of both at the same time, it can become very impaired (2). Wheat germ is very easy to add into the foods you are already eating…sprinkle it over cereal, stir it into oatmeal, add it to baked goods recipes, or blend it into your smoothie! If you can’t eat wheat, eggs are another great source of vitamin E and selenium. But you will need to eat the WHOLE egg, because vitamin E (being a fat-soluble vitamin) is found in the yolk, while selenium is in both the white and the yolk. Buy local eggs if you can for ultimate freshness! 3. Salmon So far you’ve got kombucha to fortify your barrier to pathogens, wheat germ to provide antioxidant guardians for the immune cells…but what about the immune cells themselves? To fight off disease, they need to be able to multipy and attack to the best of their abilities. This requires several nutrients, one of which is vitamin D (3). The last National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) in 2001-2006 found that about a quarter of the US was at risk for vitamin D deficiency (4). The skin does produce active vitamin D when exposed to UVB rays, but if you live above 37 degrees north of the equator or below 37 degrees south, you likely are not getting strong enough rays in the fall, winter, and spring (5). FYI, Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, and Utah fall juuust above the 37th parallel. If you live in or north of these states, you should probably get your vitamin D levels checked every so often as well as acquaint yourself with good sources of vitamin D. Salmon, especially sockeye, is very high in vitamin D. One ~4 oz fillet of sockeye salmon or a ~6 oz fillet of Atlantic salmon provides all of your daily vitamin D needs. Most other types of fish are also good sources, providing about 1/2 of your needs in a 5 oz fillet. If you’re not a seafood fan, most milk and non-dairy milks are fortified with vitamin D. Also eggs save the day again with 2 providing about 1/6 of the daily vitamin D requirements. However, I would also recommend discussing with your doctor or dietitian whether or not you should take a supplement. Happy grocery shopping!
1. Peregrin, Tony. “The Inside Tract: What RDs Need to Know about the Gut Microbiome.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vol. 111, no. 8, Aug. 2013, pp. 1019–1023., doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2013.05.017. 2. Kubena, Karen, and David McMurray. “Nutrition and the Immune System.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vol. 96, no. 11, Nov. 1996, pp. 1156–1164., doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0002-8223(96)00297-0. 3. Cantorna, Margherita, et al. “Vitamin D status, 1,25-Dihydroxyvitamin D3, and the immune system.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 80, no. 6, Dec. 2004, pp. 1717–1720., ajcn.nutrition.org/content/80/6/1717S.short. 4. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db59.htm 5. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/time-for-more-vitamin-d