The Covid-19 pandemic has amplified the focus on immune-boosting foods, resulting in consumers making healthier lifestyle and food choices. With winter around the corner, now is the time to consider whether your daily food intake is providing the full health benefits you require.
The immune system consists of organs, cells, tissues, and proteins. Together, these carry out bodily processes that fight off pathogens, which are the viruses, bacteria, and foreign bodies that cause infection or disease.
According to registered dietitian Megan Pentz-Kluyts, our current interest in health and wellness can lead to a greater understanding of the functional impact of healthier foods.
“At the core of science-based nutrition advice is to enjoy eating a variety of foods, every day. It’s this variety that exposes us to benefits from a wide range of foods. Fruit and vegetables are key food groups and should be well-represented in what we eat daily. We can add other foods and beverages that also play a role in the healthy functioning of the body and contribute to strengthening our immune function,” she says.
Pentz-Kluyts highlights some of the health benefits offered by healthy foods with simple ways to incorporate them into your family’s daily eating regime:
You can start the day with a good cup of caffeine-free rooibos tea. This delicious, proudly South African tea is abundant in polyphenols, which are antioxidants that are anti-inflammatory and antiviral.
Pentz-Kluyts says: “Rooibos tea can help to fight colds and infections and support the immune system. Rooibos also contains aspalathin, an antidiabetic miracle worker that together with the correct food choices, can help balance glucose levels and improve insulin resistance.”
Garlic can combat sickness, including the common cold and garlic is a broad-spectrum antimicrobial agent and immune booster. Because heat deactivates a key active ingredient, add it to foods just before serving.
One clove (3g) of raw garlic contains: manganese, 2% of the daily value (DV); vitamin B6, 2% of the DV; vitamin C, 1% of the DV; selenium, 1% of the DV; fibre, 0.06g; and decent amounts of calcium, copper, potassium, phosphorus, iron and vitamin B1.
Used in baking, as an alternative to sugar for sweetening hot drinks and smoothies, or just enjoyed as a healthier spread, raw honey is an age-old remedy and is still commonly used to promote digestive health.
“Our digestive system is an integral part of our immune functioning,” Pentz-Kluyts says. “‘Honey is known for its prebiotic qualities, which means it nourishes the good bacteria in our gut.”
Many families are including more plant-based meals in their eating regimes, and mushrooms have an important role to play in this dietary change. Mushrooms are a low-calorie, low-cholesterol, and low-sodium food with a lot of potential as a meat alternative and as a versatile star ingredient in many different kinds of dishes.
“Mushrooms contain powerful polysaccharides called beta-glucans,” says Pentz-Kluyts.
“Preliminary evidence suggests that mushrooms may support healthy immune and inflammatory responses through interaction with the gut microbiota, enhancing development of adaptive immunity, and improved immune cell functionality. ”
Look for yogurts that have “live and active cultures” printed on the label, like Greek yogurt. These cultures may stimulate your immune system to help fight diseases.
Try to get plain yogurts rather than the kinds that are pre-flavoured and loaded with sugar. You can sweeten plain yogurt yourself with healthy fruits and a drizzle of honey instead.
It’s important to know that no one food or food group can prevent sickness, but we can reduce our vulnerabilities to infections through following the South African food-based dietary guidelines and eating a variety of foods.
With the winter months fast-approaching, our increased focus on family health and wellness is taking us on a journey to learn more about a wide range of functional foods that can help increase immunity.