Best Plant-Based Ingredients to Boost Your Immune System

Best Plant-Based Ingredients to Boost Your Immune System

The onset of winter solstice this past week marks the official start of yet another winter season, which means it’s that time again for the annual winter flu and cold season. But this spell comes with more challengeswith Covid-19 still raging in many countries, as well as the new travel restrictions raised by the new strain of the virus most recently.  However, the World Health Organization (WHO) is urging countries in the northern hemisphere to not overlook influenza and other common winter season viruses—to have proactive testing and place surveillance systems to identify the kind of viruses and their circulation.  With these in mind, boosting our immunity comes with even greater importance these days. And in addition to keeping our mental health in check due to prolonged isolation and adapting to all the changes brought upon us by the pandemic, we’ve seen a broader and significant focus on food-buying practices, healthy diets, and eating habits.  While you don’t have to fully commit to a plant-based diet or follow the Mediterranean; Paleo; DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension); Atkins; and the Ketogenic diet among many others, you can start easy and simple—without the food restrictions—by using some of the best plant-based and easily accessible ingredients in your everyday dishes and regular recipes. 

Immune-Boosting Fruits and Vegetables 

The subject of immune health is wide, but one thing is constant—fruits and vegetables—and how its beneficial consumption is a common denominating factor in plant-based, weight loss, and popular diets.  This power duo packs a punch, with its component of various vitamins and minerals, you can never go wrong with any kind of fruits and vegetables to incorporate in making more delicious, more sustainable, and more healthy favorite dishes.  Some of the recommended ones are leafy greens (bell pepper, kale, spinach, brussels sprouts, broccoli) and citrus fruits (orange, lemon, grapefruit, lime, pineapple) for folate, iron, and vitamin C; colorful fruits and veggies (pumpkin, squash, cantaloupe, sweet potato, carrots) for vitamin A; bananas and potatoes for vitamin B6; and many others.  From the main course, salad, soups, to desserts, try out these recipes with your choice of fruits and vegetables: broccoli salad with almond lemon dressing; sesame brussels sprouts curry; roasted chickpea Caesar salad; lemon broccoli rice bowl; grapefruit eggplant fries; raw lemon cherry cheesecake; delicate orange spice cake; creamy hummus soup; orange mint jalapeno salad; and carrot-orange soup. 

Immune-Boosting Herbs and spices 

Herbs and spices not only give aromas and distinct flavors to food, but they also come with many immune-boosting components such as antioxidants. Basil, garlic, turmeric, ginger, dill, cinnamon, cardamom, and cayenne are all versatile kitchen ingredients, easily available at your local market, and can be incorporated into your favorite beverages and recipes. So, make sure you have some of these in your spice rack for that instant flavorful, aromatic, and antioxidant- boosted delicious foods.  But among the many herbs and spices, some are given more attention for their therapeutic benefits and properties and are also highly recommended by Johns Hopkins Medicine:
  • Cinnamon
  • Turmeric
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Cayenne
Cinnamon, besides being commonly associated with sweet foods, helps in lowering blood sugar levels for adding sweetness without the added sugar and reducing cholesterol and triglyceride levels that are all important for people with type 2 diabetes and those at risk of heart disease.  Diane Vizthum, research nutritionist for the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine recommends sprinkling cinnamon on yogurt, cereal, fruit, in stews and chilis, or use as a rub for meat substitutes. It’s also good for coconut golden chai oatmeal, peach cobbler muffins with toasted oats, Moroccan red lentil soup, cinnamon turmeric sweet potatoes, and cinnamon coconut New York-style cheesecake.    Turmeric, the anti-inflammatory superfood with the power of curcumin doesn’t only reduce inflammation in the brain (linked to cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s, depression), but it’s also efficient in pain and swelling reduction caused by arthritis. In addition, a recent Johns Hopkins study found that this spice also has anti-cancer properties that can make a chemotherapy drug more effective.   Use turmeric in vegan chicken tacos, thai green curry, and red lentil coconut curry; as a rub to vegetables and meat alternatives; or to spice up your beverages like turmeric glow lemonade, turmeric tea or latte, and raw citrus turmeric shot; and for recipes with a twist like coconut turmeric roast potatoes and sweet turmeric coconut bites.    Ginger, this tropical superfood is efficient at easing nausea (pregnancy-related or chemotherapy-induced), upset stomach, and diarrhea. While it comes in many forms, it’s best to use the fresh kind to incorporate in your recipes and teas It’s as multipurpose as it can be, so use it freely in your stir-fry dishes, baked goods, tea (lemon ginger turmeric wellness shots), smoothies, latte (easy masala chai), homemade salad dressing (quick ginger garlic miso tahini dressing), soup (tom yum soup), and salad (gingery apple cabbage sauerkraut).     Garlic, one of the most important ingredients in the world of gastronomy may be known for its pungent smell and taste, but studies show that eating garlic can help in protecting the heart. According to researchers, garlic is useful in maintaining the flexibility of blood vessels, and even lowering cholesterol and triglycerides.  Make wonders with fresh garlic by combining it with olive oil, pepper, rosemary, and other herbs and spices when you season vegetables or for rubbing and marinating meat substitutes It adds an appetizing taste and aroma too in your soups and salad dressings. And instead of the common mashed potatoes side dish, why not try garlic mashed cauliflowereasy to make and with only six ingredients and you can whip up a new favorite garlic-buttery side dish.    Cayenne, that 10-times hotter cousin of jalapeno contains capsaicin—the power substance that creates its distinctive spicy taste. According to studies, this substance is where its potent pain relief powers come from by reducing the number of pain signals brought to the brain—creating much less discomfort due to diabetes-related nerve damage and arthritis.  Other benefits include reducing ulcers, lowering excess stomach acid, and increasing blood flow.    Spice up regular dishes by using it in stews, soups, and even hot chocolate or try out recipes using cayenne pepper: honey sesame tofu tacos, cayenne hot chili pepper truffles,  tortilla soup, dirty rice, spicy mango mandarin smoothie, cheddar cayenne crackers, pineapple barbecue sauce-glazed "meat" balls, and southwest pasta salad.