Five Fortifiers for Supporting Your Immune System

I hope that many of you have been out and about slaying this summer! It’s been a little schizo with the weather. One minute, it’s sizzling hot and the next, it’s rainy and cool (I actually prefer a little coolness to walk around without the sweatiness but that’s just me 😉). Anywho, my son and I did a little day trip to a museum in the city and had a blast. But a few days later, my nose was stuffy and I was constantly blowing it like a trumpet. My husband said, “Looks like you have a cold.” What the hell! In July?! Who catches a cold in summer! My immunity has been a little comprised lately. Generally, your immune system acts to protect the host from infectious agents in the environment like bacteria, fungi, and viruses. But the immune system may be impaired by factors including short-term and chronic stress, aging, and poor nutrition. Truth be told, I have had some additional stressors lately in my life that I’m learning how to manage slowly but surely. Meditation and journaling has helped me tremendously. There are times when I feel angry or sad and I accept it; I don’t try to fight it off as I instinctively want to do.

Some evidence suggests that deficiencies in nutrients such as vitamin A, C, E, zinc, and selenium may also play a pivotal role in immune function. So there are some foods that I bone up on to help boost my immunity. Some of them are as follows:

Red onions

As a young 20-something carnivore, I went through this weird phase where I would put caramelized onions on everything like tuna sandwiches or grilled chicken. I have no freaking clue why I did that. Don’t judge me! Eventually, I outgrew that little scenario. Recently, I have slowly started integrating red onions back into my life. Just a little bit here and there on my veggie burgers and pasta dishes just to add some zing. Again, just a little bit. Onions contain vitamins C, E, B vitamins, potassium, calcium, and selenium. Red onions have a higher concentration of nutrients such as potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium than yellow onions. Vitamin C is crucial to the immune system because it prevents oxidative damage to lipids, proteins, and DNA in the body that can lead to the development of chronic conditions including cardiovascular disease and cancer. Also, vitamin C regenerates vitamin E when it becomes oxidized by free radicals. Some animal studies indicate that selenium deficiency decreases the body’s ability to fight off viral infections such as influenza and Keshan disease. Furthermore, low selenium levels have been associated with illnesses such as thyroid dysfunction, depression, and sperm abnormalities. In addition, this plant has strong antioxidant properties because it has flavonoids like catechin, kaempferol, myricetin, and quercetin. Quercetin protects against low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. I decided to do my own spin on this side dish of creamy cauliflower that is lightly topped with red onions for an extra punch.

Peaches

Peaches are an occasional treat for me, mostly if it’s in season or something like that. But when it is available, honey!!! Grilled peaches on top of ice cream—LOVE!! Okay, let me turn off my greedy button and get to it. Peaches are a good source of beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A. Some studies have shown that beta-carotene enhances the immune system by increasing the number of T-helper cells and natural killer cells, which are instrumental in terms of immune response to infected cells. Beta-carotene also has cancer-fighting potential because of its antioxidant ability to combat single-oxygen free radicals that may lead to conditions such as skin and lung cancer. What’s more, beta-carotene is converted to retinol that is needed for optimal vision. And this fruit has other nutrients like vitamin C, potassium, calcium, and phosphorus. As I said before, peaches are great on top of rich desserts but sometimes I need to keep it light and fresh with a summer salad.

 

Carrots

Carrots are king when it comes to beta-carotene because it is one of the best sources of this nutrient. As such, it has been reported that carrot intake has immuno-enhancing properties and has a protective effect against conditions such as stroke, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, cataracts, arthritis, heart diseases, bronchial asthma, and urinary tract infection. This antioxidant veggie is also loaded with other phytonutrients such as polyphenols like caffeic acid that have antimutagenic and antitumor properties. In addition, it contains dietary fiber and nutrients like vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. My son eats carrots all the time so we always have it in the house. I tend to snack on carrots with almond butter from time to time, but every now and then I fancy it up by roasting it with a dash of thyme and agave nectar.

Mango

My family is Jamaican, so mangoes were always around our house when I was growing up. And you didn’t eat it all chopped up and pretty. You held that sucker in your hand, chomped right into the skin, peeled the skin off, then slurped on the juicy, succulent fibrous strands until you reached the seed. Yep, yardies are hardcore my friend! Anywho, mangoes are rich in immuno-enhancing vitamin C and E, as well as essential nutrients such as potassium and copper. This fruit is high in antioxidants because it contains close to 25 different carotenoids including beta-carotene. Mangoes have polyphenols like quercetin, caffeic acid, and catechin. But the fruit has its own unique phenolic compounds such as mangiferin. All of which show anticarcinogenic, antiatherosclerotic, antimutagenic, and angiogenesis activity against degenerative diseases. Some studies suggest that mangiferin may be effective in treating heart disease. And it has been reported that mango consumption may reduce the risk of prostate and skin cancers. I love to slather mango salsa in my wraps and salads, but when it’s hot, mango salsa on a veggie burger is promising too.

Brazil nuts

Brazil nuts are definitely new to my repertoire. If you love peanuts, these nuts are for you, despite the large, weird, triangular shape. Brazil nuts taste the same—trust! Brazil nuts have protein, fiber, vitamin E, vitamin B6, thiamin, niacin, calcium, iron, potassium, copper, and magnesium. But Brazil nuts are also the best plant-based source of that immune-boosting antioxidant selenium. It has been reported that one Brazil nut provides 160 percent of the US Recommended Daily Allowance of selenium, which may lower the risk of conditions such as prostate, liver, and lung cancer. And Brazil nut consumption has been associated with lowering blood cholesterol levels. Please note that Brazil nuts do contain barium and radium, which are potentially toxic in large amounts. The best way to enjoy Brazil nuts is mixed with other nuts like cashews and almonds. Moderation is always the way to go.

 

So these of some of the foods that I like to load up on when my immune system is out of wack. What are some of the ones you eat?

Four Tips to Curb Caffeine

My son’s camp is finishing up and so Mommycamp has begun. That means cramming six weeks of fun-filled activities together for my son with usual work demands. But it is exciting, exhilarating, and exhausting! So I picked now to try to cut down on caffeine ☹. I know, I know, sad day for me. Anywho, I’m a green tea drinker so I always figured that I was okay in the caffeine department. I was averaging around three to four cups a day at one point. After all, green tea is high in antioxidants and lower in caffeine compared to black teas and various coffees, right? But the caffeine content with some teas may vary based on the type of tea and the brewing time.

What the heck is caffeine anyway? Caffeine is an alkaloid found in plants that acts on the central nervous system. It is an ingredient in many foods, beverages, and proprietary drugs (the FDA’s National Center for Drugs and Biologics lists more than 1,000 over-the-counter drugs with caffeine as an ingredient—yikes!). Small amounts of this stimulant may alter metabolic rate, respiratory rate, heart rate, and blood pressure. Other effects may include frequent urination (diuretic) and increased blood sugar levels.

Some research indicates that caffeine comes with a mixed bag of results. Moderate amounts of caffeine can decrease fatigue (yeah!), enhance cognitive and physical performance, quicken reaction accuracy, and increase focus.  Too much caffeine may alter your hormone levels and deplete essential nutrients such as calcium and magnesium. In fact, caffeine intake has been associated with risk of endometriosis, osteoporosis, and anxiety and gastrointestinal disorders. Some other problems that can occur with overconsumption of caffeine include insomnia, headaches, nervousness and nausea. For example, some evidence suggests that consumption of five or more cups of coffee a day is linked with a low risk of Type II diabetes but lower consumption levels are inconclusive. Okay, before we all burn our stashes of coffee and tea, remember the risk comes with caffeine overconsumption. So keep it moderate folks.

In my quest to control my caffeine, there are some foods that I rely on:

Parsley

I confess that I used to be one of those people that would toss the parsley right off my meal at restaurants like what the heck do I need that for?! #don’tknownobetter. In my defense, most restaurants tend to use curly leaf parsley that has no flavor. Flat leaf parsley—yep, much better. But parsley can be just as tasty and healthy as the main meal. This diuretic herb is an antioxidant because it contains the flavonoid apigenin, which also has anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic, and antimutagenic properties. In addition, parsley has vitamins C and E, beta carotene, thiamine, folate, iron, and calcium. Calcium levels decrease with high caffeine consumption. Please note: be very careful with high-calcium foods because some of them may contain oxalates. I talk about that here. I do love some flat leaf parsley when I can get it but when I can’t, dried parsley will do just fine on my soups and salads.

Almond Butter

Like many of you, I grew up with peanut butter in my house. When my parents weren’t home and we didn’t want to heat anything up, it was peanut butter to the rescue. I didn’t try almond butter until I was an adult. And, admittedly, at first I friggin’ hated it. It took tweaking the right combination (almond butter and a dash of agave nectar FTW) to really bring out the flavor of this nut butter. Almonds are loaded with vitamin E, phosphorus, potassium, and dietary fiber. This nut is also rich in magnesium and calcium, both of which are reduced by high caffeine intake. Almond butter has more fiber, calcium, and potassium than other nut butters like peanut butter. What’s more, it has been reported that high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the good cholesterol that decreases risk for heart disease) increased with almond butter intake. I like almond butter occasionally on toast or as a snack with whatever fresh veggies or fruit are available in the house.

Black-eyed peas

I used to think black-eyed peas were just something you ate to celebrate the new year. Before I became a vegetarian and then a vegan, I thought black-eyed peas were just “awkward” as my son says about foods he abhors. But then I discovered Texas caviar—DIVINE! The flavor combination of the peas, onions, red bell peppers, and tomatoes with just a hint of oil and vinegar. Here’s a nice recipe for it. Just plain lovely. Black-eyed peas or cowpeas are also a nutritional powerhouse because it is a good source of flavonoids like quercetin, protein, carbohydrates, and nutrients such as niacin, thiamine, iron, magnesium, and calcium.

Tahini (Sesame seed butter)

Tahini or sesame seed butter is definitely a dressing that I discovered when I became a vegan and I’m glad that I did. It is creamy, filling, and a great compliment to meals like falafel tacos or even pasta—who knew! Sesame seeds are high in protein, carbohydrates, and dietary fiber. And sesame seeds are rich in phytosterols or compounds that resemble cholesterol in humans and ultimately reduce our blood cholesterol levels. Tahini is made from sesame seeds that are ground or milled into a paste. Tahini has B vitamins like niacin and minerals such as calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium. Special advisory for those with allergy issues: sesame seeds do contain immunoglobulin E, which are mediated food allergens. When it comes to tahini, basic is best. Nothing tops off a night like a spoonful of tahini over a plate of falafels.

Those are some of the foods I like to combat my caffeine craziness. What do you like?

Five Foods to Beat Breakouts and Relieve Rashes

  • It’s summertime and the living is easy—and sweaty!

For the past two summers, I’ve noticed that random pimples will pop up on my forehead, usually near the hairline. And I’ve had some redness and irritation from constantly shaving my legs (Mama likes smooth legs 😉). I’ve always been prone to skin allergies and rashes, particularly eczema flare-ups, which I talk about here. Thankfully, this isn’t eczema but just your garden-variety hot weather breakout and rashes. Phytonutrients or compounds found in plant-derived foods such as curcumin (turmeric) and polyphenols found in fruits and veggies like raspberries and pomegranates (rich in antioxidant ellagic acid) are wonderful basic methods of reducing skin inflammation and DNA damage from ultraviolet radiation. In addition, those of us who are vulnerable to occasional whiteheads and blackheads may want to increase our intake of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are responsible for skin repair and flexibility. You can read my rundown on this skin mega-nutrient here. That means upping your consumption of foods like flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and hemp seeds. Here are some of other foods that I partake in when I need to banish breakouts and reduce rashes:

Cucumbers

Cucumber isn’t just a summer-refresher veggie because it has a water content of 95 percent. This vegetable is one of the most important weapons against skin inflammation. Cucumbers are full of antioxidants such as beta carotene (the primary precursor to vitamin A) and vitamin C. It also contains B vitamins, vitamin K, flavonoids such as quercetin and luteolin and minerals such as silica. Silica is absolutely necessary when it comes to collagen production. Collagen is a type of protein found throughout the body and is important for maintaining the tone and elasticity of your skin. I tend to go the traditional route when it comes to cucumbers and enjoy them in my salads, but when I want to go all-out I’ll throw them in a big heaping sandwich like this one.

Brown rice

Rice is my go-to meal when I have no clue what I want to eat for dinner. Or when the clock is ticking and I need something quick fast in a hurry. Or when the cupboards are pretty much out of darn near everything else. You get the picture. Before we jump into the benefits of brown rice, I want to address the elephant in the room: arsenic. It has been reported that rice consumption is linked with exposure to low-level arsenic, which may have adverse health effects. According to the authors of a 2012 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, “At present, the health effects of low-level arsenic exposure are uncertain…” The conclusion is that further research needs to be done. With that said, brown rice is superior to polished or white rice because it has high dietary fiber and complex carbohydrates (a boon for those who have Type II diabetes), vitamin E, B vitamins, low glycemic index, and minerals such as magnesium, thiamine, and iron. It also has selenium, an antioxidant mineral that is essential for wound repair. Selenium plays a role in protecting the skin from excessive UV light damage and preventing skin cancer. I’m not fussy: I like rice with pretty much everything including lentils, chickpeas, veggie sausage, veggie chicken, black beans, just to name a few.

 

Red bell peppers

Peppers are not something I eat often, but when I do, I love to roast them with a light drizzle of olive oil. Red bell peppers are rich in vitamin C. Most of us know that vitamin C is an antioxidant that destroys free radicals that can damage healthy cells. Vitamin C also forms bonds between collagen fiber strands to provide extra stability and strength. But what makes red bell peppers so darn special is that it contains more than 30 different carotenoids (plant pigments with antioxidant properties) including beta-carotene and zeaxanthin, which I discussed here. Bell peppers also have other nutrients such as vitamin E, thiamine, and niacin. So slice open that sucka and grill it, bake it, or chop it!

Pecans

In my pre-vegan and pre-vegetarian days, I used to cap off a long day at work by stopping at a pretty well-known cookie shop for their signature pecan pie brownies. They were just ooey-gooey madness that melted in my mouth. Those were the good old days before I knew what I know now. But we vegans can still enjoy the sweet taste of pecans and its nutrients. Pecans contain vitamin E, folic acid, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Some studies suggest that pecans can help prevent the buildup of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Best of all, these nuts are a really good source of zinc.  Zinc is a vital nutrient for growth and development including proper immune system function and reproduction (affecting both males and females). Zinc deficiency has been linked to conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, taste impairment, and loss of smell. As far as the skin goes, zinc is a crucial component of wound healing because the nutrient is required for the synthesis of DNA and collagen. I still love pecan pie anything like this treat but my snacks have a little less guilt attached to them.

 

Oats

Oats are my old standby food when it comes to breakfast. They are dependable, filling, versatile, and always healthy. I talk about some of its attributes here. Oats contain vitamin B1, vitamin B6, magnesium, iron, and wound-healing zinc. But oats also have avenanthramides, which are phenolic compounds that are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Some research indicates that avenanthramides are associated with the cardioprotective effects of oats. In addition, when applied topically, these compounds may alleviate the inflammation and itching that accompany dermatologic conditions such as eczema and atopic dermatitis. If you are going to go the topical route, please use colloidal oatmeal. Colloidal oatmeal is produced by finely grinding the oats and boiling out the colloidal material for usage. Regular oatmeal in your shower drain is not a good look folks.

 

There you have it, my foods for soothing breakouts and itchy rashes. What do you do?