Can We Stay “Immune” to Germs?

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With everything that is going on around us, many of us are thinking not only about proper hand washing and decreasing the spread of germs, but also how we can stay healthy as a whole.  We all know, based on the research, that eating fruits and vegetables keeps us healthy overall.  So are there any foods that we can prioritize during seasons of illness to try to give us a healthy edge?

While no food or group of foods offer guarantees, of course, there are foods that contain specific types of nutrients that studies have shown help improve health outcomes.  Trying to consume these foods in larger amounts may help keep us healthy and possibly help our immune system fight whatever antagonists come our way.

Anthocyanins are a member of the flavonoid family with powerful antioxidant-type properties that have been shown to help our immune system.  A 2016 systematic review (of fourteen different studies) published in the journal Advanced Nutrition demonstrated the essential role of flavonoids in the function of the respiratory immune system by decreasing incidence of upper respiratory tract infections.  They have also been shown in other studies to boost cognitive function, keep our liver healthy, prevent cancer and keep our heart healthy.  Top anthocyanin containing foods (those that have a blue, purple or red hue) are:

  • Berries – blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, elderberries, cranberries and bilberries are rich sources of anthocyanins. Blueberries rank number one in terms of antioxidant activity in tests carried out at the USDA. Try using dried blueberries mixed into smoothies, plain yogurt, granola, cereal, or just by the handful.
  • Cherries – tart cherries have higher anthocyanin levels than sweet cherries; research has also found that people who eat tart cherries experience pain relief from osteoarthritis, gout and muscle soreness from workouts.
  • Purple grapes – a great source of anthocyanins and also resveratrol, they help dissolve uric acid crystals, which can contribute to gout and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
  • Eggplant, purple asparagus and red cabbage – three vegetables that are very high in anthocyanins, with cooked red cabbage in particular have 36 different types of anthocyanins.
  • Black rice – has 6 times more antioxidants than brown or white rice, but one spoonful of black rice bran has the same amount of anthocyanin as a spoonful of fresh blueberries.

Antioxidants like Vitamins A, C and E counteract the oxidative assault in our body from everyday toxins and stress, but also from health attacks from germs (both bacterial and viral).

  • Highest sources of Vitamin C are citrus fruits, berries, bell peppers, broccoli, spinach, papaya and kiwi.
  • Vitamin A sources include sunflower seeds, almonds, broccoli, carrots, sweet potato, spinach, Swiss chard and mango.
  • Vitamin E sources include sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, avocados, spinach and Swiss chard.

What is the take away from these lists?  If we aren’t eating these foods, we should try to add some of these items to our meal plan.  It is always best to eat a wide variety of colorful foods, organic varieties whenever possible. We CAN have a good immune defense to help us stay healthy through cold and flu season, and hopefully through anything else that comes our way.  So, get enough sleep, cover your cough and sneeze, and wash your hands, especially before food preparation and before eating.