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Boosting the Immune System

Today is my grandma's birthday (Nanny)- she is 93! One of my favorite childhood memories is Nanny in the kitchen cooking her potato soup for me when I had a cold, and nursing me back to health. When we were younger it wasn't a huge deal to be sick. We would just stay home from school, we had plenty of time to rest, and Nanny could make us soup while we watched TV. But, as an adult, those sniffles and coughs can be quite inconvenient.

The common cold affects the average adult about two to six times each year. As I write this article, I am especially thinking of my friends up north! Hang in there guys, hopefully that revitalizing spring weather will come soon. Sending you extra warmth today across the Atlantic :)

When it comes to any sort of ailment or sickness, this quote comes to mind:

An ounce of prevention is worth

a pound of cure.

- Benjamin Franklin

In other words, it is easier to stop something from happening in the first place than to repair the damage after it has happened. This notion especially rings true for health. How do we avoid getting sick... or at least lessen the severity of our symptoms? One place we can start is by examining the foods we are consuming – especially in the winter months.

Immunity, which is protection from viruses and bacteria, depends on optimal nutrition. It is easier to stay on track with our life goals and overall happiness when we are healthy, and keeping the immune system in check contributes immensely.

Picture this. You realize mid-workday that you have a runny nose, so you run around like a madman/woman begging coworkers for those Emergen-C powders or Airborne tablets... I might kill your dreams right here, but that may not actually be effective.

Numerous studies, involving tens of thousands of individuals, have been conducted over the last several decades to examine the effectiveness of vitamin C in healing a cold. A Cochrane review reported that regular use of vitamin C supplements in amounts of 200 mg or more - modestly and consistently -shortened the duration of cold symptoms by about 8% in adults and 14% in children, but vitamin C supplementation once cold symptoms are already present has not been shown to be beneficial. Thus, vitamin C is more so effective as method of prevention rather than treatment.

Not to mention that excess ingestion of vitamin C, in amounts greater than about 500 mg (or sometimes less), is usually excreted in the urine within about six hours. (Airborne contains a whopping 1,000 mg of vitamin C and most of this will just be excreted.)

Instead of rushing to find a “quick-fix” once we are sick, regularly incorporating in to our meals an adequate balance of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals will support a strong immune system.

Certain functional foods can also play a significant role in boosting immunity.

  • Garlic – Garlic has been widely used in traditional medicine with protective and curative purposes. It plays a role in maintaining the homeostasis of the immune system and also has anti-inflammatory properties.

  • Lemons – Lemons restore acid-alkali balance. Drinking freshly squeezed lemon juice in water, or adding it to tea, salad dressings, baking or cooking, helps maintain the body’s internal “climate” at a pH that supports healthy bacteria instead of the viruses and harmful bacteria that thrive in more acidic environments.

  • Onions – Onions have been shown to contain 25 active compounds and several scientific studies have shown that including onion in the diet stimulates the immune system.

  • Broccoli – Broccoli is rich in antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory effects on the body, both of which are vital in properly functioning immune systems.

  • Berries – Berries are a source of polyphenols, which are an important determinant of the immune cell function. *Extra tidbit on berries: they are one of the fruit families that are significantly lower in sugar.


Our health affects all areas of our lives. The food on your plate is not a separate isolated entity working in a silo. How we feel is a reflection of what fuels us, and this is inextricably linked to all other aspects of our being. Don’t we want all of these things to work in sync so that we can live it up? (Raise the ROOF.)

Now I might go make some potato soup... and add some garlic and onions!


Arreola, R., Quintero-Fabián, S., López-Roa, R. I., Flores-Gutiérrez, E. O., Reyes-Grajeda, J. P., Carrera-Quintanar, L., & Ortuño-Sahagún, D. (2015). Immunomodulation and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Garlic Compounds. Journal of Immunology Research, 2015, 401630.

Basu, A., Rhone, M., Lyons, T.J.(2010). Berries: emerging impact on cardiovascular health. Nutrition Reviews, 68(3), 168-177.

Boost your immune health. (2010). Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education, 39, 176. Retrieved from

Garcia, A.L., Reardon, R., Hammond, E., Parrett, A., & Gebbie-Diben, A. (2017). Evaluation of the “Eat Better Feel Better” cooking programme to tackle barriers to healthy eating. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(4), 380. doi:

Glade, M. J., & Meguid, M. M. (2015). A glance at... broccoli, glucoraphanin, and sulforaphane. Nutrition, 31(9), 1175-1178. doi:

Gropper, S.S., Smith, J.L., & Carr, T.P. (2018). Advanced nutrition and human metabolism (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Mirabeau, T. & Samson, E.S. (2012). Effect of allium cepa and allium sativum on some immunological cells in rats. African Journal of Traditional Complementary Alternative Medicine, 9(3), 374-379.

Neyestani, T.R. (2008). Polyphenols and immunity. In: De Meester F., Watson R.R. (eds) Wild-Type Food in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. Human Press.


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