Eat This For That

What to eat to support your immune system

08.10.20

The immune system — the catchall term for so many processes in our bodies — is vitally important to our health. It is perhaps best known for its ability to recognize bacteria, viruses, or anything else that appears foreign and harmful to our bodies and to send appropriate help (e.g. antibodies) in response.

We often think of the immune system as something we want to boost or maximize at all times, but it’s important to remember that an overactive immune system can wreak as much havoc on our bodies as an underactive one. Autoimmune conditions, for example, are situations when the immune system responds to perceived threats that are not threats at all.

There are many ways that we can support our immune system to respond appropriately to true threats. We’ve distilled down a few recommendations on how to better support your immune health from our Medical Advisory Board which includes experts across Western Medicine, Ayurveda, Hydration, Holistic Nutrition, and Herbalism.

 

  • Add more micronutrients to your meals. These are one huge reason that ‘eat your fruits and veggies!’ is timeless good advice for supporting immune health. Your food, when grown in nutrient-dense soil in a healthy environment, contains ample micronutrients (like zinc, b vitamins, magnesium, etc.) that help your immune system function properly. Sadly, these days our produce is becoming less and less nutrient-dense, because of soil degradation, monoculture farming, and other modern agricultural phenomena. Adding additional micronuteritions to existing meals can be an easy way to boost your immune system. Sprinkling something like kelp flakes (they have a mild salty taste; if they weren’t green you might mistake them for sea salt!) or our Sesame Nori Seasoning on food is a great way to pack each bite with micronutrients. And bonus points for our seasoning - research shows that dried shiitake mushrooms have serious immune system boosting powers.
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  • Invite immune-supportive herbs like nettle, echinacea, and elderberry into your life. We love Herb Pharm’s Immune Season Blend with elderberry, astragalus, echinacea, and ginger, and our very own Tulsi Cinnamon Tea with nettle, ginger, and tons of other good-for-you herbs. You can also create or purchase an herbal tea with a combination of these herbs. 
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  • Take 1-2 shots (~1 fl oz) of apple cider vinegar each day, especially in the fall and winter. The more efficiently we can extract nutrients from the things we ingest, the more resources our immune system has to do its job well. Apple cider vinegar supports an optimal pH in the gut for good microbes to thrive, and therefore fosters great digestion. We really love fire cider, which includes the added infusion of immune-supportive roots and spices like ginger, horseradish, garlic, and rosemary.
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  • Cook with more garlic (or eat it raw!) Garlic has been celebrated for millennia for its many health benefits, and research confirms that garlic enhances immune system function. Garlic regulates the immune system by stimulating certain cell types, such as macrophages, lymphocytes, natural killer (NK) cells, and dendritic cells — all critical in immune response. If you don’t like cooking with garlic and are feeling brave, you can swallow a small clove whole as you would a pill. This is best done before, with, or after a meal. 
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    At Agni, we expand our definition of ‘food’ to include nourishment of other kinds, such as  experiences, habits, and thought patterns. According to the many disciplines we study, these impact our health just as much as the literal molecules we ingest. Here are a few non-food-related tips that we absolutely love for boosting immunity:

     

  • Incorporate gentle, restorative movement into your week. Gentle, restorative movement calms the central nervous system and increases circulation of blood and resources to all parts of the body, including the immune system. It also activates the parasympathetic nervous system — the “rest and digest” state — which tells the body and the immune system, “All is well here, we don’t need to run, fight, or struggle, and we can focus on baseline maintenance of key body systems.” This is a critical message for the body to receive, and not receiving the space to restore can lead to immune fatigue or overactivity. 
  • If you’re looking for at-home inspiration, we love Dylan Wener’s yoga classes on Alo Moves. Restore is a particularly great class to get started. 

  • Check in with your sleep quality and quantity. So much incredible healing happens when we sleep. If you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting out of bed in the morning, that’s a message from your body to check in with your sleep habits and to see what you can improve. For our full list of recommendations, check out our post, What to eat to support restful sleep
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    As always, these tips work best in conjunction with eating high-quality, whole, fresh foods that you enjoy at regular times of day and striving for a healthy gut. Gut health (aka agni) is a critical underlying component of all forms of health and recovery, because it enables us to properly absorb and incorporate the nutrients our immune system needs to function optimally. For more about Agni’s food philosophy, check out What to eat to fuel your Agni.