Research shows that diet has a clear impact on immune function, playing a key role in the body's ability to stave off illness and stay healthy. Though this might seem a bit of a no-brainer, it's an easy thing to overlook. Stressful situations (global pandemics, for instance) often have us reaching for quick comfort in the form of sugary or highly processed snacks. Yet while these foods might give us a temporary reprieve via a quick-lived dopamine surge, they don't do us any favors in the long run.
A well-balanced diet full of colorful fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and adequate protein is really the key in supporting our bodies during times of stress, ensuring our immune systems have an adequate supply of all the key nutrients needed to function optimally and protect us from disease. Since snacking often tends to be the place where we go wrong, I like to focus on ways we can make it work to our advantage.
By including foods, herbs, and spices high in nutrients known to support immune function in all our snack-time rituals, we can turn snacking into a time to build, rather than deplete, our vitality. Read on for some immune-boosting snack inspiration.
Apple and Seed Packed Nut Butter
You've all heard the expression, "an apple a day keeps the doctor away". There's certainly truth in this, as apple skins contain a high concentration of the flavonoid quercetin, known to boost immune function and reduce inflammation. Pairing your apple with the nutrient powerhouse that is nut butter turns the humble apple into a substantial snack, not only supplying protein and healthy fats, but the powerful antioxidant vitamin E as well, a key player for healthy immune function. Mixing a few tablespoons of seeds into your nut butter (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, chia, hemp) takes this up to the next level, packing even more good stuff in to your snack time, including immune healthy nutrients like zinc, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids.
Turmeric Spice Popcorn
Popcorn is the perfect snack when you need that salty, crunchy hit. It feels a bit naughty, but prepared well is actually quite healthy, providing dietary fiber necessary for healthy digestion, and antioxidant polyphenols that help protect the body against oxidative damage. The best part about popcorn, however, is that it can act as a backdrop for immune-boosting herbs and spices, turning it into a true powerhouse of a snack. Turmeric is my favorite choice, providing immune boosting and anti-inflammatory properties to the mix as well as a lovely pungent flavor and gorgeous golden color. To four cups of freshly popped popcorn, add 1/4 tsp turmeric, 1/4 tsp garlic powder, 1/8 tsp cayenne (or to taste) and a generous sprinkle of nutritional yeast. Mix well and serve.
Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
Everyone knows that vitamin C is great for boosting our immune function, but usually people think of oranges when trying to up their consumption. Actually, a cup of chopped red bell pepper contains nearly three times the vitamin C levels of oranges with a fraction of the sugar, providing ample levels of vitamin A as well -- another key player in healthy immune function. There's lots of great recipes for roasted red pepper hummus just a Google search away, but for those who are time crunched, I like to buy a jar of already roasted red peppers and combine with pre-made hummus. Drain the peppers, and combine in a food processor with a 16 oz container of prepared hummus, blending until smooth. Serve with vegetable sticks.
Yogurt and Berries
Yogurt makes a great snack due to its high protein content, supply of B vitamins, trace minerals and ample populations of beneficial microorganisms, all of which have been shown to boost immune function and prevent certain illnesses (though make sure you choose a yogurt that is unsweetened and contains live cultures to ensure you're getting the most benefits). By topping your yogurt with rich pigmented berries like blueberries, raspberries or cherries, you add in antioxidant power as well, which helps protect your body against the negative effects of inflammation.
DIY Trail Mix
As mentioned previously, nuts and seeds are nutritional powerhouses, chock full of protein, healthy fats and vitamins and minerals like Vitamin E, selenium and zinc required by the immune system to function optimally. There are lots of available trail mixes out there, but many of them contain added sugars, processed oils and high sodium levels that take away from the nutritional benefits. For this reason, I prefer to make my own, mixing in walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds with a small amount of dark chocolate and unsweetened dried fruits for sweetness. This is a handy thing to stash in your bag when you're on the go, ensuring you've got an immune boosting snack on hand whenever and wherever hunger strikes.
Writer Danielle Charles Davies holds a Bsc in Herbal Science from Bastyr University and completed the two-year clinical training program at the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism in Montpelier, VT. Her writing has appeared in Taproot, The Journal of the American Herbalist Guild, and Kindred Magazine, among others. She lives in Northern Michigan with her husband, two dogs and eight ducks. She blogs at www.bluemoonkitchen.com.
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or sell any product.