15 Foods for Heart Health

Show Your Heart Some Love!

Now you know how important diet is for heart health. So what are the specific foods you should be eating if you want to support your heart health?

1. Berries

Especially the red and blue varieties, are remarkably potent, heart healthy warriors. Results of a meta-analysis study from 2016 found that berry consumption contributed to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, blood pressure, and body mass index. Simply consuming 1 to 2 daily portions of either strawberries, raspberries or blueberries can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

2. Leafy Greens

Famous spinach-lover, Popeye the Sailor, didn’t just get outwardly strong from eating his greens. He was unknowingly strengthening the most important muscle in his body: his heart! Leafy greens, such as spinach, collards, kale, beet greens, and dandelion greens contain an abundance of vitamin K, which helps decalcify blood vessels and protects the arteries. A meta-analysis study, published in JRSM Cardiovascular Disease, showed a 16% decrease in heart disease from a diet rich in leafy greens. To put that in context — a 16% reduction in heart disease deaths would save the lives of more than 97,000 people each year in the United States alone. So I say, “Bring on the greens!” What’s the best way to eat leafy greens? For best results, enjoy a combination of raw and cooked leafy greens for maximum nutritional benefits.

3. Avocados

Did you know that avocados have even more potassium than bananas? A single Hass avocado contains 33% of the daily recommended potassium intake. Potassium increases nitric oxide release, lowering blood pressure and improving the function of your arteries. Avocados also contain healthy monounsaturated fats, which can reduce LDL cholesterol and overall cardiovascular disease risk.

4 & 5. Nuts and Seeds

Nut and peanut butter consumption can protect your heart in a number of ways. (Note: peanuts aren’t, botanically-speaking, nuts. They’re legumes. But they’re used like nuts.) They’ve been shown to lower LDL cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of inflammation, decrease body weight and insulin resistance, and improve endothelial function. Walnuts, in particular, have been extensively studied for their positive effect on LDL cholesterol. Part of the reason may have to do with their high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Flax and chia seeds are also rich in healthy fats and are two of the best sources of plant-based omega-3’s, namely ALA — an essential fatty acid we can only get from food. How many nuts and seeds should you eat? One daily serving of nuts can reduce your risk of cardiovascular death by 39%. But, a little goes a long way with nuts and seeds due to their calorie density. Dr. Joel Fuhrman recommends 1-2 ounces of nuts and seeds per day (or more if you’re fit).

6. Dark Chocolate

Discovered over 2,000 years ago in Central and South America, the Latin name of the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, means “food of the gods.” And it’s easy to see why. The antioxidants derived from the cacao tree, found in cocoa powder and dark chocolate, are more powerful even than “superfruits” like blueberries, acai, cranberry, and pomegranate. One study even showed that high levels of dark chocolate consumption reduced cardiovascular disease by 37%, type 2 diabetes by 31%, and stroke by 29%. Those are pretty significant numbers! How to choose the best chocolate: But even for all its benefits, keep in mind that most chocolate contains large amounts of sugar and dairy, which can mitigate its benefits. When it comes to your health, darker is better, so look for varieties that contain at least 72% cocoa. And as with many tropical foods, sourcing matters too. To avoid supporting farmer exploitation and child labor, I always encourage fair-trade-certified cocoa.

7. Beans

As a child, you may have heard the schoolyard song about beans being good for your heart. Little did you know, there’s actually some truth to that! Beans are high in a variety of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, making them a top heart-healthy food. Beans also contain phytochemicals that reduce inflammation and oxidative stress caused by a buildup of plaque and clogging of the arteries. Darker colored beans, such as adzuki beans and black beans, have the highest levels of phytochemicals. But all kinds of beans are highly nutritious and are excellent foods for heart health. Add them to soups and salads or prepare them as a main course with steamed veggies. Just one serving of beans per day can reduce your risk of heart attack by 38%, according to a 2005 study.

8. Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene, an antioxidant and carotenoid that gives them their red color. As an antioxidant, lycopene can lower inflammation in your body and prevent oxidative stress that contributes to heart disease. What’s the best way to eat tomatoes? Eating raw tomatoes was shown to increase HDL (the good cholesterol) in overweight women. But cooking tomatoes actually increases their nutritional benefits, releasing even more lycopene than what’s available in their raw state. Try including cooked tomatoes in stews, chilis, and stir-fries or as a topping on zucchini or butternut squash noodles.

9. Apples

An apple a day may keep the cardiologist away. But why exactly is that? Apples contain pectin, a soluble fiber that blocks cholesterol absorption in your gut. Like beans, they also have polyphenols and other antioxidants that fight heart disease by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. One study concluded that apples could be almost as effective at preventing heart disease deaths as statins, or cholesterol lowering drugs. Apples are a beneficial addition to any heart-healthy diet. What’s the best way to eat apples? They’re best eaten with the skin on because the skin provides most of the fiber and many of the other beneficial nutrients, too.

10. Garlic

Part of the allium family of vegetables, garlic has been used for centuries in cooking and medicine. Charaka, the father of Ayurvedic medicine, claimed that garlic maintains blood flow and strengthens the heart. Evidence exists from the National Health and Medical Research Council that ½ to a whole clove of garlic daily could lower blood cholesterol levels by up to 9%. Garlic extract has also shown anti-clotting and blood-pressure-lowering properties in studies.

11. Tumeric

A major ingredient in Indian curries, the health benefits of turmeric are far-reaching due to a powerful polyphenol called curcumin. Curcumin is what gives turmeric its yellow color. And it also has a protective role against cardiovascular disease. The antioxidant effects of curcumin can prevent heart-related complications due to diabetes, lower LDL cholesterol levels, protect against atherosclerosis, and prevent heart failure and arrhythmias. 

12. Ginger

A widely used medicinal spice, ginger is useful in treating a variety of chronic conditions, including heart disease. Ginger’s active component, gingerol, has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. In one study, mice who consumed a high dose of ginger extract for 10 weeks experienced a 76% reduction in cellular cholesterol. Another study with humans who took a 10 gram, one-time dose of dried ginger, saw a reduction in the formation of blood clots.

13. Black Pepper

Considered the “king of spices,” black pepper is rich in minerals including potassium, which helps control heart rate and blood pressure ― and zinc, an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties. It’s also a rich source of magnesium, which helps keep blood flow and blood vessels in tip-top shape. One study found that supplementation of black pepper in a high-fat diet increased HDL (good) and reduced LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and reduced triglyceride levels.

14. Cinnamon

Although today we associate cinnamon with foods like apple pie, its culinary and medicinal history goes back thousands of years. Arab traders brought it to Europe in limited supplies where the then expensive spice was considered a status symbol during the Middle Ages. Cinnamon is documented in both Indian Materia Medica and Indian Medicinal Plants – A Compendium of 500 species books, classifying the spice as an herbal drug with cardiovascular benefits. In recent studies, cinnamon has been shown to help manage obesity-related high cholesterol while also increasing nitric-oxide levels.

15. Coriander

Coriander has a long and well-documented history as a treatment for cholesterol. The seeds of coriander are especially good at lowering cholesterol, which has been documented in a few different studies. One study on rats showed a significant decrease in total cholesterol and triglycerides while HDL (good) cholesterol levels increased. Another study using coriander and curry leaves found they help prevent blood clots caused by heart disease. Let Food Be Thy Medicine Many of the foods mentioned here aren’t only good for heart health. They’re also beneficial in fighting other diseases and chronic conditions, such as cancer, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.

Resource: Food Revolution Network, Inc. https://www.foodrevolutionsummit.org/heart/

Top 4 Supplements To Improve Sleep

Although I wouldn’t consider a reliance on supplements for sleep a healthy practice, there are some supplements that can improve the body’s own ability to induce sleep. When it comes down to it, sleep is a regulatory cycle in the body. By using substances that improve the body’s ability to regulate itself, sleep can actually be improved over time and not just when the substance is being used. With that said, here are the best supplements to improve sleep quality. 

1. Magnesium To Improve Sleep Quality

I believe magnesium deficiency may be one of the most pervasive and insidious deficiencies of our time. There are many consequences of not taking in adequate dietary magnesium. Utilized in over 300 different body processes, it just may be one of the most important minerals in our bodies. 

In terms of sleep, magnesium plays a critical role in regulating melatonin and GABA levels in the brain (2, 3). Melatonin and GABA are released in healthy individuals to help induce relaxation and sleep. Without adequate magnesium intake, the brain may not be able to properly signal the body for sleep.

Also, for its ability to support GABA production in the brain, magnesium is an effective anxiolytic. Additional research has shown that magnesium helps to balance blood sugar, lower blood pressure, and relieve physical tension. For anyone experiencing insomnia and especially those who can’t seem to shut their brain off at night, magnesium is my go-to.

2. Adaptogens To Improve Sleep Quality

Adaptogens are substances that improve the body’s ability to endure stress. Traditionally, adaptogens were seen more as a performance enhancer for athletes but could they also improve sleep? 

There aren’t too many studies investigating the direct impact of adaptogens on sleep. What there is, however, is research showing the ability of adaptogenic herbs to lower cortisol and improve anxiety. This could be an effective remedy for anyone who is enduring chronic stress or blood sugar imbalance that is causing an evening spike in cortisol. 

The most effective herbs I have found for this purpose are ashwagandha, reishi mushroom, Magnolia bark, cordyceps and rhodiola (4, 5). 

3. Relaxing Herbs To Improve Sleep Quality

There are several herbs that can help to improve sleep quality. I find that for someone with severe insomnia, these herbs don’t quite do the job. In combination with other strategies, however, certain herbs can complement a sleep plan very well.

Some of my favorite herbs to improve sleep are kava, chamomile, valerian, passionflower, lavender, and lemon balm. Instead of going out and buying all of these herbs, I usually recommend this Nighty Night tea made by Traditional Medicinals that combines many of the best sleep herbs in one tea bag. Use this daily to improve sleep. quality! 

4. Melatonin To Improve Sleep Quality

This one is touchy and there are many opinions on melatonin. When it comes down to it, melatonin is a hormone. The ideal situation would be to optimize your body’s own ability to create melatonin so I would consider this supplement an acute support for occasional use.

Supplementing with melatonin can be very useful for either occasional sleep support or retraining the sleep cycle. For this purpose I really like magnesium plus melatonin. Most research shows that doses over 1.5mg of melatonin are not beneficial…so I would not push the dose with this one. 

Bonus Sleep HACK: Camping

It’s starting to become apparent that many of our sleep problems are a result of not being fully in tune with nature. Naturally our bodies should coordinate with the cycles of night and day and additional support shouldn’t be needed. While nutrition plays a huge role in helping the body regulate itself, there is another major deficiency that I believe affects almost all Americans. This deficiency is exposure to nature. 

The benefits of being in nature are increasingly being uncovered and range from mood improvement, boosts in creativity, better immunity, stress reduction, and yes, even better sleep. A recent study investigated the influence that camping has on our sleep and found that, in the absence of artificial lighting (that means no cellphones), sleep onset occurred much earlier and in sync with the rising and setting of the sun (6). 

The most valuable hours for sleep are considered to be between 10pm and 2am so using camping as a way to reset your sleep cycles could be a game-changer. The study found that even just a weekend of camping had a powerful ability to reset the circadian rhythm. Additionally, being in nature during the day will lower cortisol, improve mood, and inspire creativity! 

Vegetable Oil

There are two important concepts to understand when it comes to fat consumption. Having a healthy Omega-3:Omega-6 ratio is important for controlling inflammation in the body and regulating metabolism (1). Also, your brain and the myelin that surrounds your nerves is primarily made of fats.

Consuming highly processed vegetable oils contributes to disease by neglecting both important concepts.

Vegetable oils are very high in omega-6 fats while also being highly damaged during processing. This leaves you with an elevation in inflammation and subpar building materials for your brain and peripheral nervous system!

Be careful here…these are REALLY HARD to avoid all together. Be sure to read labels and if you see anything with corn oi1, soybean oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil and peanut oil than those are vegetable oil culprits.

Many restaurants cook with these and call them “olive oil” when they are really 50% or more corn or canola oil.

When you eat out consider bringing your own oils(homemade salad dressing) and grass fed butter or ghee to make sure you get the right stuff. You are paying for the meal… why not take control of what you can!

graphic on coconut oil

Alternative: Organic Virgin Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is a great source of healthy saturated fat that is safe for cooking up to 350 degrees F which is where it hits its smoke point. Coconut oil has a remarkable stability and along with extra virgin olive oil, butter, ghee and beef tallow handles heat quite well.

Additionally, it provides small amounts of medium chain triglycerides which can be converted onto ketones that have great benefits for your body. These fats also have anti-bacterial and anti-yeast properties that benefit the microbiome.

More Veggies Please!

Grandma was right — eating your vegetables is one of the best things you can do for your health. Science tells us over and over again that consumption of vegetables, especially those leafy greens, is associated with a lower risk of chronic disease (especially cardiovascular disease) and better mental health.

It turns out that there’s a direct link between how many green vegetables you eat and your chances of steering clear of cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, osteoporosis, and nearly every other major illness of our times. It seems as if every day another study shows the extraordinary power of nutrient dynamos such as broccoli, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, cabbage, collards, mustard greens, kale, beet greens, spinach, and dark greens of every kind.

The problem is, many of us don’t like vegetables. The average American gets only about 7% of calories from fruits and veggies, with most of the rest coming from meat, dairy, and processed food.

15 Tips on How to Eat More Vegetables

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So if you are trying to figure out how to eat more vegetables, and you don’t really care for them, your best strategy is just to keep eating them. That may sound like a double bind — in order to love vegetables, you have to eat vegetables you don’t love — but in practice, it’s quite doable. And change can happen pretty rapidly. I hear all the time from people who’ve improved their diets, and they can’t believe how their taste preferences have changed. To speed the process and make it easier and more enjoyable, here are some tips to help you figure out how to eat more vegetables.

1. Cut Them Up Playfully (Especially for Kids)

Studies have found that kids (and some adults!) respond differently to foods depending on how they’re sliced and prepared. And when vegetables are cut into appealing shapes, like stars or cartoon characters, that can help, too. Some parents even give vegetables fun names, like calling broccoli florets “trees.”

As healthy-parenting expert Emily Honeycutt reminds us, “Kids learn through play. We develop habits by creating habit loops — building associations with positive or negative emotions. The more positive emotions we associate with vegetables throughout our childhood, the more likely we are to continue those healthy habits throughout our lives.”

2. Cook Creatively

Cook vegetables in a variety of ways. Grill asparagus with lemon, bake squash and serve it as boats filled with quinoa or a stir-fry, or roast cauliflower “steaks.” Want something simpler? My mom, Deo, makes some of the best greens I’ve ever tasted. She cuts kale into thin strips and sautés the strips with garlic and onion in olive oil, and then steam-cooks it with a little organic tamari. Delicious!

3. Give It a Whirl

Make a soup by puréeing steamed veggies in a blender with your favorite herbs and spices (many people especially love ginger and garlic). If you want a thicker or creamier texture, you can add white beans, potatoes, cashews, or a coconut or nut milk.

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4. Add Them to Everything

One of the best ways to figure out how to eat more vegetables is just by adding them to everything, especially dishes you already know and love. You can add veggies to pasta sauce, pizza, lasagna, casseroles, and chili, or to cooked quinoa, brown rice, or barley. Chop up fresh vegetables like spinach, cucumbers, mushrooms, peas, or kale and toss them into whatever you’re cooking. You can even blend your veggies, so they effectively become part of the base.

5. Feature Them

Pour tomato sauce over cooked chopped vegetables like onions, zucchini, mushrooms, and leafy greens. Or if you want to get fancier, try a spiral slicer or a mandoline — or even a simple vegetable peeler — to make fun noodle shapes out of zucchini, spaghetti squash, or eggplant. Don’t limit vegetables to a side dish or a side salad. See what happens if you make them into the main event. Some chefs even use zucchini or avocado as a base for desserts.

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6. Grow Them

Studies find that when children (or adults!) grow vegetables, they’re more likely to eat them. Plant a few seeds in the yard or in a container inside your window. Water as needed, and watch the miracle of life unfold. Gardening is a great way to enjoy the freshest, healthiest possible food, and it builds a strong relationship with produce that sets up your family to enjoy it more.

7. Dehydrate Kale into Chips

Instead of reaching for potato or corn chips, you can make your own kale chips with a dehydrator, or use your oven on a low setting, like 200 or 250°F. Destem the kale, marinate it in lemon juice and seasonings, and then dehydrate or bake it. The flavor and crunchy texture can be intoxicating!

8. Make a Slaw

With a food processor, or by hand, shred the tough “winter veggies” like cabbage and carrots into an easy-to-enjoy slaw. Fold in some raisins, and top it with your favorite dressings. Plus, it’s easy to plop slaw into a container and grab it when you’re on the go.

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9. Marinate

Marinate your favorite vegetables, chopped, for a few hours to soften and flavor them before cooking. For the marinade, I like a mix of garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and (optionally) olive oil. You can marinate mushrooms, broccoli, string beans, asparagus, collards, and lots more. You can also enjoy some marinated vegetables raw. Or if you like, you can roast, grill, bake, or sauté them — or add them to a stir-fry.

10. Wrap It Up

It’s not hard to figure out how to eat more vegetables if you just hide them in a wrap. Simply wrap veggies up in a lettuce leaf (or a steamed leaf of collard greens or cabbage). Or grab a tortilla and add your favorite sauces, salsa, or spices.

11. Slice and Dip

You’re a lot more likely to reach for the veggies instead of the chips if they’re already in snackable form. When you get home from a shopping trip, wash and cut some snacking vegetables and store them in the fridge for easy access. You can also make your own veggie dips for when the snacking urge strikes!

12. Steam Away

Probably the best way to eat abundant vegetables is to steam a pot of them. Our family does this frequently. We like broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage, onions, carrots, zucchini, and Swiss chard. Our kids love eating with their fingers, so we leave big chunks, including whole leaves and carrots. We often keep sauces for dressing or dipping on hand.

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13. Experiment with Seasonings

If vegetables, or any other food, still seem a little plain to you, there’s one simple way to add flavor and even more nutrition. Spice it up! If you’re not an old hand in the kitchen, avoid overwhelm by starting with spice blends associated with cuisines you enjoy. With a few shakes, you can transform a simple veggie bowl into an Asian, Tex-Mex, North African, Ethiopian, Indian, or Mediterranean delight.

14. Try Something New with a Friend (Make it a Contest or Challenge)

Need a little push to get started, or a touch of accountability to keep you going? Why not add a bit of fun to your veggie-quest by challenging a friend to do it with you? You could each pick a vegetable and commit to eating a pound of it (or more!) this week. You can communicate privately, or broadcast your challenge on social media and invite others to play and comment — #veggiechallenge, anyone?

15. Start with the Veggies You Do Like

I don’t want this long list to give you the idea that adding veggies to your diet will be some incredibly complicated and difficult feat. You probably already like some vegetables, even if you think of yourself as a veggiephobe. If you can tolerate corn, or carrots, or sweet peas, don’t discount them. Pile them on right now — no need to wait!

Foods For The Immune System

Do you sometimes get colds or the flu, particularly in the colder winter months? If so, you’re not alone. In the U.S., the average adult gets sick two to four times per year, and the average child between six and eight.

You probably know the basics of cold prevention, like practicing good hand washing and avoiding contact with sick peers. But have you ever wondered why two people could have exactly the same exposure to a sick friend — and one of them gets sick, while the other doesn’t?

The difference is often their immune system.

So how can you give your immune system support? It turns out that one of the most powerful tools for a strong immune system is your diet.

Let’s take a look at what your immune system does and how to support your immune system with food, so it can protect you from nasty, cold-weather bugs.

What is the Immune System?

The immune system is your body’s network of organs, tissues, and cells that work together to keep you healthy by fighting off harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi. It acts as a barrier between your body and the things that can make you sick.

When your immune system is compromised, it’s like tearing down a wall that would otherwise help to keep germs at bay.

Your immune system can become compromised by dietary, environmental, and lifestyle insults. And a compromised immune system can lead to frequent illness, such as the common cold and flu, as well as more serious infections and diseases, even including cancer.

Your complex and amazing defense system is made up of two main parts. First, you have mucous membranes found in places like your nose, eyes, and mouth — which use white blood cells to fight infections before they can get inside you. Second, you have T cells and B cells, which work together to create antibodies that fight off invaders and then destroy infected cells throughout your body.

Your bone marrow and spleen also play key roles, making white blood cells which fight infections. And your lymphatic system transports lymph (a fluid containing white blood cells) throughout your body.

Altogether, your immune system functions as an amazing team, working to keep you healthy, safe, and alive.

How Does Diet Affect Your Immune System?

It’s difficult to overstate how important nutrition is in promoting a healthy immune system. You need a diverse group of phytochemicals (the bioactive chemical compounds in plants) to create a strong barrier against pathogens that would otherwise make you ill.

Because immunity typically declines as you age, it becomes especially important to eat a diet for immunity and immune-supporting foods as you get older.

Many studies have shown that nutrient deficiencies cause impaired immune function in the elderly. Even in people as young as 35 years old, poor nutrition wreaks havoc on the immune response.

But there’s good news, too! When elderly people eat at least five servings per day of fruits and vegetables, they have improved antibody response to stress.

For many reasons, the more fruits and vegetables you eat, the better off you are. And you need specific nutrients for optimal immunity.

Some of the most immune-optimizing vitamins and minerals include folate, zinc, iron, beta-carotene, Vitamins B6, B12, C, D, and E.

So, what foods should you be eating to get them?

Diet for Immunity: Top Foods

As it turns out, the best immune system supporters are found in the produce aisle, not in the pharmacy.


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Kiwi

Eating kiwi fruit has been shown to reduce the duration of the common cold.

In fact, it can reduce a child’s risk of getting sick by 50%. And it can even shave a few days off of how long the elderly are sick with upper respiratory infections.

Kiwi is high in vitamin C, folate, potassium, and antioxidants, such as alpha-Tocopherol and lutein. It has been shown to have positive effects on the immune response — making it potentially helpful in preventing a wide range of ailments.

Kiwi makes a great snack for all ages. It’s easy to throw into a lunch bag or serve sliced alongside a hearty breakfast. Most people peel it, but when you include the peel, you triple the amount of fiber you get from this tasty fruit. The skin also has a unique prebiotic potency that makes it marvelous for your microbiome.

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Garlic

Garlic has been used in medicine for centuries.

One of the reasons is that whole garlic contains a compound called alliin, which turns into the active compound allicin when crushed and is known to enhance immune function. Crushed garlic also offers additional sulfur-containing compounds with healing properties.

Heating fresh garlic may reduce its flu-fighting ability, but some studies have shown that letting crushed garlic sit for 10 minutes prior to heating it can protect its immunity-supporting capabilities from being compromised.

Aged garlic extract may also reduce the severity and duration of cold and flu.

If all else fails, garlic does wonders for opening up a stuffy nasal passage!

Enjoy minced, crushed, or roasted garlic in homemade pasta sauces, sprinkled on pizza, in warm soups, or as a flavor-boosting complement to almost any savory dish.

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Onions

No need to cry. Onions are good for you!

They contain two major compounds for immunity support: the antioxidant flavonoids anthocyanin and quercetin—and allin.

Red and yellow varieties are particularly high in quercetin, which is known to have anticancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-viral properties. The highest concentration is in the outer rings.

Enjoy onions baked, roasted, sauteed, or chopped up and eaten raw in many dishes. If they make your eyes water, make sure you chop them with a sharp knife, with your arms straight, so any onion juice spray is some distance from your eyes. You can also cut onions under running water to protect your eyes. But be sure to wash your hands, knife, and cutting surfaces with soapy water afterwards.

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Ginger

Ginger has many medicinal and health uses and is known to be a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. It also has antimicrobial effects and can help to protect against infectious disease.

Gingerol is the compound found in fresh ginger that is most responsible for its anticancer properties. It’s also is closely related to capsaicin and piperine, the active compounds in peppers that give them their spiciness and unique medicinal traits, as well as the curcuminoids found in turmeric.

You can purchase ginger root fresh and keep it in the freezer. When ready to use, grate it into stir-fries or smoothies, or boil it for a hot ginger drink. You can also use it in a dried, powdered, or oil form.

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Green Tea

Green tea is about 40% polyphenols by weight — and may be the most powerful of all the teas.

It contains compounds called catechins, as well the antioxidant quercetin and the amino acid L-theanine, all of which support a strong immune system. These compounds are effective agents in helping the body fight viruses, such as influenza and many forms of gastrointestinal infections.

Green tea is an immunity warrior. One study showed that women under 50 who drank green tea at least three times per day reduced their risk of breast cancer by 37%.

But you may not necessarily have to drink green tea all the time to reap its benefits. In fact, gargling these catechins has also been shown to reduce incidences of influenza among the elderly.

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Cruciferous Vegetables

A 2011 study published in the journal Cell found that cruciferous vegetables, including kale, collard greens, mustard greens, Chinese cabbage, bok choy, kohlrabi, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, are a source of a chemical signal necessary for the immune system to function at its best.

Cruciferous vegetables contain beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, folate, and vitamins C, E, and K. They are also rich in sulfur-containing substances called glucosinolates, which make sulforaphane — a phytochemical known for its immune-optimizing and anticancer effects. When chewed and chopped, these vegetables also release other cancer-fighting compounds called isothiocyanates.

Of all the cruciferous veggies, kale appears to offer the most anti-inflammatory polyphenols, which enhance the body’s defense against pathogens, especially when cooked.

Try chopping leafy, cruciferous greens and mixing them into salads. You can also add them to soups, sprinkle them onto pizzas, or even blend them into smoothies.

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Prebiotics, Probiotics, and Fermented Foods

Digestive health has a huge impact on nearly every important function in your body — including your immune system.

Some of the most important players in gut health include probiotics (the good bacteria in your gut) and prebiotics (which feed the probiotics).

Probiotics can be found in supplement form and are also abundant in fermented foods, such as kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, yogurt, kefir, and natto. They appear to reduce the risk for upper respiratory infections.

And a 2003 study published in Gut observed the ability of probiotic strains Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus acidophilus to protect cells from the most dangerous forms of E.coli bacteria.

Prebiotics are abundant in whole plant foods — especially jicama, chicory root, garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, onions, leeks, leafy greens, bananas, and the peel of kiwi fruit.

A 2011 study published in the Journal of Gastroenterology found that prebiotics had several positive effects, such as anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as supporting increased mineral absorption and stronger immune response to disease.

(Learn more about probiotics and prebiotics, including how much to take, here.)

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Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast contains beta glucans, which are known to have powerful infection-preventing and immunity-supporting properties by enhancing natural killer cell (anti-cancer and anti-infection) activity.

A 2013 study published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that people who consumed one tablespoon of nutritional yeast per day were able to reduce recurrence of infections from the common cold by 25%.

Nutritional yeast offers a nutty or cheesy taste. You can sprinkle it onto pasta, soups, and salads. You can also use it in baking or mixed into homemade sauces.

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Berries

Of all the superfoods, if I had to pick one that I love the most, it would be berries. There’s something about their sweet juiciness and abundant bursting flavor that adds a special kind of sparkle to the world.

Their colors are pretty extraordinary, too! And it turns out, those colors aren’t just for looks. Berries get their dark purple, pink, red, and blue hues from chemicals known as anthocyanins. These flavonoids help treat many conditions, including high blood pressure, colds, and urinary tract infections.

Berries are also high in antioxidants, like vitamin C, which help prevent cell damage and inflammation. One of the antioxidants found abundantly in berries is ellagic acid, which is known to prevent tumor growth and protect immunity of the oral mucous membrane.

In 2013, researchers analyzed 446 compounds for their ability to support immunity. Their conclusion, which they published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, was that resveratrol in red grapes and a substance called pterostilbene in blueberries had the most impact.

A 2018 review of the health effects of berries and their phytochemicals on the digestive and immune systems found that whole berries had potent, immune-optimizing properties.

Add strawberries to a salad, raspberries to oatmeal, or blueberries to a batch of weekend pancakes. You can even make elderberry syrup, which you can take by the teaspoon or add to a hot beverage.

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Citrus Fruits

You’ve probably heard people say drinking orange juice can help battle the common cold. But did you know that eating citrus fruits in their whole form is even more effective?

Citrus fruits are rich in protective antioxidants like vitamin C, which can help to support your immune system and make you less susceptible to illness.

Sometimes, when people are stressed, their immune function diminishes. This is one of the reasons that people under stress are more likely to get sick. A study published in Neuroimmunomodulation found that simply smelling citrus fragrances could reduce stress-induced immunosuppression.

So stock up on oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits, and tangerines this winter for some easy, grab-and-go flu fighters.

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Mushrooms

There are hundreds of mushroom species, and virtually all of them offer unique protective health benefits.

Mushrooms have been used medicinally for thousands of years. And today, modern science is beginning to understand how potent these fungi really are.

Regularly eating blanched white button mushrooms, found in most grocery stores, has been shown to optimize immunity support in the mouth and respiratory tract. Less common varieties, including Reishi, Turkey Tail, and Shiitake, appear to attack viruses and cancer cells.

A 2015 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition by the University of Florida followed 52 healthy adults, ages 21 to 41, who ate one, four-ounce serving of dried Shiitake mushrooms daily for four weeks. They observed better functioning T-cells and reduced inflammation, in a way not seen before through drug interventions.

Find out more about the extraordinary health benefits of medicinal mushrooms here.

You can dice mushrooms and add them to veggie burgers, slice and cook them in stir-fries, blend them into soups, or stuff and bake them. You can also enjoy them in powders and coffee substitutes.

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Apples

An apple a day… provides a great source of soluble fiber, which can strengthen your immune system.

A 2010 study published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity fed mice diets of either soluble fiber or insoluble fiber. Those who were fed soluble fiber showed “profound, positive changes in their immune system,” increasing production of anti-inflammatory protein interleukin-4 and recovering much quicker from induced bacterial illness.

Other studies have shown apples to have robust antioxidant activity. This is important because antioxidants help protect your cells from damage and can lower your risk for infections and disease. (For more on what antioxidants are and what they do, click here.)

Enjoy apples whole, sliced, or blended into homemade applesauce, or baked with peanut butter and raisin filling for a delicious natural dessert.

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Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds are full of vitamin E, containing 82% of the daily value in just one-quarter cup.

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant known to reduce the risk of inflammation-related diseases, protect your body from cell damage, and fight oxidative stress that can lead to illness. Sunflower seeds also create antibodies that can help fight infections.

You can toast sunflower seeds, eat them raw, add them to a salad, or blend them into sunflower butter.

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Red Peppers

Red peppers have twice as much vitamin C as citrus fruits. They also contain vitamin E and beta-carotene, which may give you extra immunity support.

A 2010 study published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology found that capsaicin in red peppers induced an anti-inflammatory effect, possibly through inhibiting inflammatory cytokine production.

Red peppers are versatile. You can enjoy them raw, roasted, stir-fried, or as part of a soup, salad, or pasta dish. Varieties range from mild to very spicy.

Are You Getting Enough Magnesium?

Are you near a AA battery? If so, pick it up and feel its weight. That’s roughly how much of the mineral magnesium you have in your body – about 25 grams, or a little less than an ounce. Magnesium has many health benefits, and plays a vital role in many bodily functions, yet it gets almost no press compared to its more famous buddies, iron and calcium.

While magnesium abounds in nature – it’s the seventh most common element on earth, by weight – we aren’t getting nearly enough of it to achieve and maintain optimal health. Somewhere between 10-30% of people worldwide – and around 50% of Americans – appear to be deficient. Magnesium deficiency is so common and widespread that it’s been called a public health crisis.

And compounding the problem is the fact that it’s hard to accurately measure magnesium levels in the body. Tests look at serum magnesium (in the blood) and not intracellular magnesium (the concentration of magnesium within cells, where it’s needed). It’s a little like trying to figure out the financial health of a bank by counting the money in the Brinks vans going to and from the building. There’s some relationship, but it’s far from the whole story.

But what exactly does magnesium do in your body? What are the health benefits of magnesium? And why are so many of us deficient these days? Read on to find out!

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