We have all been trying to eat healthier this winter, but often times it can seem like a complicated order. How to get our nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that will help our bodies fight off infection, lower inflammation, feel more energetic and support a healthy immune system feels like a chemistry test at times. While loading up on plenty of plant-based foods every day to be our healthiest is a great way to start, eating healthy every day can be much, much simpler than we think, nutritionists say.
You don’t have to chomp on raw garlic or pop a collection of supplements to enjoy optimal health. Simply add any of these everyday simple superfoods to your plate or snacking routine (or sipping habit) to strengthen immune function, lower inflammation, and have more energy.
These plant-based nutritionists are more than happy to share the foods that they eat daily, that are brimming with nutrition like vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and gut-healthy probiotics that will help to bolster immune function and overall wellbeing, yet are totally realistic to eat daily. Read on–and when you shop next, don’t skip the bell peppers.
1. Nuts for Immune Health
Morgyn Clair, MS, RDN, with Sprint Kitchen, tries to eat at least one serving of nuts almost daily. “According to a lot of recent research, many people, and especially vegans and vegetarians, do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids in their diet. Omega 3 is critical for immune health. One daily serving of at least one ounce of nuts is a great way to support immune health,” she says, noting this study which found a positive relationship between omega-3 fatty acid consumption and a healthy microbiome that is able to fight off infection better than the control group.
To keep things interesting and ensure a mix of different nutrients, Clair mixes things up by rotating between almonds, walnuts, and pistachios.
2. Kimchi for Gut Health
Bring on the fermented foods. Brooke Alpert MS, RD, CDN, author of The Sugar Detox, and medical advisor to Cure Hydration shares that kimchi — which refers to a wide range of salted and fermented veggies in Korean cuisine — has always been something she enjoyed, but since she’s home more these days, she’s been able to incorporate it as a consistent part of her eating habits. “I love to throw spicy kimchi in a salad or to mix it with rice, which has become a lunchtime staple here since the winter when salads became a bit less interesting,” she offers. “Kimchi is very high in fiber and filled with healthy probiotics, specifically the Lactobacillus bacteria, which can help boost your immune system, making it the perfect pandemic meal addition.”
3. Spinach for Immunity and to Fight Inflammation
“Spinach is a powerhouse food for the immune system because it is loaded with vitamin C and many antioxidants,” explains Allison Gregg, RDN, LD/N, Nutritional Consultant at Mom Loves Best. “A recent study in Nutrients found that vitamin C has a high anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capacity. These two properties reduce inflammation and oxidative stress which strengthens the immune system,” she continues.
If you’re not the biggest spinach fan, try slipping a handful or two of the leafy green into your favorite smoothie recipe, you’ll hardly detect a difference in taste and still reap the same nutritional benefits.
4. Raw Bell Peppers for Immunity and Iron Absortion
“Bell peppers are packed full of nutrients that benefit the body in significant ways, yet most of the general public is unaware of how healthy they actually are, until recently. Bell peppers are brimming with vitamin C, but this is its most vulnerable nutrient because it is denatured in the cooking process,” says Trista K. Best, MPH, RD, LDN at Balance One Supplements (hence her rec to eat bell peppers raw).
“Vitamin C has immune support benefits, but also improves the absorption of iron,” she adds, another essential nutrient your body needs, and one that can be harder to obtain on a plant-based diet. (For more on how to get enough iron when you’re following a plant-based diet, read our article here.
5. Green Tea for Weight Loss, Gut Health and Cardiovascular Health
“Green tea contains flavonoids and epigallocatechin gallate, EGCG, which are two powerful antioxidants,” says Gregg. “Compared to black tea, green tea is not fermented which preserves its EGCG content,” she adds, noting that EGCG has been studied for its ability to enhance immune function. For more on green tea and EGCG, check out our article on immune-boosting foods and supplements here.
6. Water for Overall Cell Function and Immunity Boosting
Not exactly a food, we know, but you can’t underestimate the importance of H2O. “Hydration has always been really important to me for mine and my patients’ optimal health and a healthy immune system. When the pandemic first started, I noticed many of my patients and [I] were having a tough time keeping up with their water intake,” shares Alpert. “Maybe this was from being less active or perhaps since many of them weren’t leaving their homes, there were missed chances to remember to drink more water,” she says, who in her role with Cure Hydration has also personally started enjoying the vegan, no-sugar-added flavor packets to her water. “It helps make water more interesting to drink and even better, helps to keep everyone properly hydrated with electrolytes which can support their immune system,” she adds.
7. Citrus Fruits for Immunity, Treat Respiratory Infection and Lower Inflammation
Melissa Nieves, RD at Kemtai, a digital home fitness company, is a big proponent of regular consumption of citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, and lemon. “They’re not only refreshing and delicious, but they’re also high in vitamin C. Vitamin C appears to be able to both prevent and treat respiratory and systemic infections by enhancing various immune cell functions,” she offers.
“As this paper from Nutrients states, ‘prevention of infection requires dietary vitamin C intakes that provide at least adequate, if not saturating plasma levels (i.e., 100–200 mg per day), which optimize cell and tissue levels,’” she elaborates, further noting that the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults for vitamin C is set at 75 mg/day for females and 90 mg/day for males.
Take note: Nieves recommends staying within the RDA parameters for healthy people, but in some cases, under medical supervision, more amounts can be beneficial depending on the medical condition to be treated.
Make it a point to include orange or clementine segments into a salad or to eat as a snack at least once a day and sip on lemon- or lime-infused water throughout the day.
Best is a big proponent of legumes — beans, peas, and lentils — because their fiber keeps her feeling full long after a meal and they are also beneficial for feeding the gut’s good bacteria. “It does this by binding and flushing out toxins and waste from your body, and even helps to reduce cholesterol and body weight,” shares Best. “Removing these toxins and waste and improving the gut’s microbiome will all work together to improve gut health.”
On that note, we’re off to whip up a chili tonight. Raw bell peppers sprinkled on top.
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