In the midst of cold and flu season, it’s good to know what we should eat to bolster our immune system. Believe it or not, your digestive tract is a huge part of your immune system. Keeping it balanced with just the right bacteria mix is essential to staying healthy.
The FoodTrient probiotics in yogurt encourage good gut flora to grow, so eating yogurt every day is a good way to keep your immune defenses strong. Be careful about eating yogurt with sugar, however. Refined sugars, yeast, and alcohol encourage bad bacteria to flourish in your digestive tract. Your best bet is to eat plain yogurt mixed or blended with fresh fruit and nuts. The fruit and nuts will provide the FoodTrient fiber to clean out the intestines.
Most people know that the FoodTrient vitamin C helps your body resist infection, but did you know that it can be found in more than just citrus fruits? Berries and melons are a good source of vitamin C. So are dark green leafy veggies, bell peppers, and chili peppers. Another FoodTrient, vitamin E, found in nuts, seeds, whole grains, and butter, also boosts immunity. So a spinach salad with tangerines and sunflower seeds will punch up your body’s defenses. As will a plate of fajitas with citrus-marinated chicken, jalapeños, and sautéed bell peppers. Be sure to put onions on those fajitas because they contain quercetin—another FoodTrient that supports your body’s natural defenses. Here is my Chicken Fajita recipe.
Quercetin is also found in the skins of apples and pears, in broccoli, citrus fruits, kale, and chia seeds. My Pear and Apple Tart recipe is a boon to your immune system, thanks to the quercetin in the fruit, the vitamin E in the butter and pecans, and the vitamin C in the lemon juice. Have a cup of coffee with a slice of my tart because the polyphenols in coffee can improve your immune function, too. Immune-building polyphenols are found in beer, pomegranates, berries and olive oil.
Zinc is a FoodTrient found in beef, cheese, shellfish, sardines, and nuts. It not only helps you stave off the flu, it also helps shorten colds and keeps your skin beautiful at the same time. Zinc maintains collagen—the main protein in connective tissue —and elastin, which helps your skin bounce back after being stretched. Carotenoids, another FoodTrient, can also protect your health during cold and flu season. They occur in yellow and orange vegetables like carrots, pumpkins, squashes, and sweet potatoes. Orange and yellow fruits such as apricots, mangos, papayas, and peaches have carotenoids, too.
Selenium is one more FoodTrient that will help you be less susceptible to germs. It’s found in Brazil nuts, liver, mushrooms, shellfish, and poultry. My Asian Chicken Salad can boost your immunity thanks to it, and to the zinc in the peanuts, the carotenoids in the mangos, and the vitamin C in the chili sauce. Here’s the recipe.
This is my version of Chinese chicken salad, but instead of Mandarin oranges, I use mangoes. The base of the dressing is a bottled sweet chili sauce. The crispy noodles aren’t too healthy but can be used in moderation. I like to fry the peanuts in corn oil, but if you can’t find raw peanuts, you can use roasted peanuts and just toss them in at the end.
1 cup raw peanuts, separated into halves
¼cup corn oil
½ cup sweet chili sauce (your favorite brand)
2 Tbsp. lime juice
1–2 Tbsp. sesame oil
2 cups shredded Napa cabbage (white part only)
½ cup shredded red cabbage
½ cup minced cilantro leaves
⅓ cup minced chives
3 cups diced roasted chicken
1 cup diced mango
2 Tbsp. roasted sesame seeds
½ cup La Choy crispy noodles (optional)
1. Fry the raw peanuts in the corn oil over medium-high heat in a heavy skillet for 5–7 minutes, or until golden brown.
2. In a small bowl, make the dressing by mixing the sweet chili sauce, lime juice, and sesame oil.
3. In a large salad bowl, toss the cabbage, cilantro, and chives with half of the dressing.
4. Fold in the peanuts, chicken, and mango.
5. Garnish with sesame seeds and crispy noodles. Serve with remaining dressing.