Immune health has been top of mind for many over the last few years. Whether you are looking to prevent a viral infection or keep the immune system balanced to avoid auto-immune conditions, vegetables can be incredibly supportive.
Research shows that diets rich in nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables may help to balance an overly reactive immune system, which is important for those with—or who are trying to prevent— an autoimmune disease.
Vitamins, Minerals, and Phytonutrients
Reducing inflammation in the body is one of the most important factors involved in supporting a healthy immune system. Consuming antioxidants (aka phytonutrients or phytochemicals), vitamins, and minerals, and improving the omega-6:omega-3 ratio all help to reduce inflammation.
An omega-6:omega-3 ratio of 2:1 is considered ideal and can be achieved by increasing the consumption of foods rich in omega-3s (such as our favorite plant—the salmon of the vegetable world—purslane!) while reducing foods that are high in omega-6s (found in the greatest amounts in processed foods and refined vegetable oils).
Generally speaking, moving towards a Mediterranean style of eating that includes nine or more servings of colorful and diverse vegetables daily helps to reduce inflammation and support the immune system.
Many vegetables are good sources of beta-carotene (converted to vitamin A in the body) and vitamin C. Vitamin A is anti-inflammatory, supports healthy immune function, and helps to keep the lining of the respiratory tract healthy. Vitamin C has antioxidant effects that help to support the immune system.
Vegetables such as broccoli, corn, garlic, and asparagus are good sources of zinc that also have anti-oxidant and anti-viral properties. Zinc is essential for the normal development and function of immune cells.
(Note: It is important not to take high supplemental doses (>40mg) of zinc for more than a week as it can actually cause copper deficiency, which suppresses the immune system.)
Phytonutrients function to help protect plants (the plant's immune system) and, when consumed by humans, they have many of the same functions in our bodies. Three of the best sources of phytonutrient antioxidants are vegetables, herbs, and spices. Studies have failed to show the same benefits from antioxidant supplements—even more reason to eat your vegetables!
A large “family” of phytonutrients called polyphenols, consisting of 8,000 different compounds, are beneficial to humans as well as to the microbes that live in our digestive tracts and are found in vegetables. Quercetin is a great example of a phytonutrient that has many potential health benefits, including decreasing viral growth. EGCG, another phytonutrient found in green tea, helps to enhance the immune system, reduce inflammation, and may target processes involved in viral replication. To obtain the most benefits from phytonutrients, we encourage “Eating the Rainbow” and have specially curated a vegetable box that contains each color of the rainbow, with specific veggies changing monthly.
Digestive Health and Immune Health
As we age, we naturally produce less stomach acid—and stomach acid is one of our first lines of defense against pathogens.
It is estimated that 70% of the body’s immune cells line the digestive tract so, in order to support immune health, it is important to also support gut health. In addition to supporting gut health with the prebiotic fiber inulin, garlic (active ingredient allicin) has been studied for its potential antiviral and anti-microbial effects on the common cold. It is recommended to consume at least 30 grams of fiber from whole foods daily along with adequate hydration to help support gut health.
Fermented vegetables are another great way to maintain a healthy microbiome and healthy gut barrier function. Consumption of fermented foods may help to reduce the incidence and duration of respiratory infections.
Balanced Blood Sugar Supports Immune Health
Consuming a variety of colorful vegetables that are high in fiber along with healthy sources of protein and fat helps to maintain stable blood sugar levels. Processed foods, high glycemic index foods, and foods high in added sugar can cause larger swings in blood sugar, which can negatively affect the immune system. View our Low Carbohydrate Collection here.
Lifestyle Factors to Support Immunity
In addition to supporting the immune system with nourishing nutrient-dense vegetables, it is important to:
- Reduce stress: Both short and long-term stress can suppress the immune system.
- Ensure that you are getting enough deep and restful sleep: Even one night of poor sleep affects the immune system's ability to fight off an infection.
- Enjoyable movement: Regular movement helps to improve blood circulation, decrease stress hormones, and increase antibodies and white blood cells that can help to fight infection.
- Spend time in nature: Besides reducing stress spending time outside is a great way to obtain Vitamin D from sunlight. Having optimal levels of Vitamin D helps support a healthy immune system. If you are planning to supplement with Vitamin D talk with your medical provider to see if they would recommend a blood test to help determine what dose would be most appropriate for you. If you prefer to obtain Vitamin D through food consider placing edible mushrooms in the sun for at least a few hours prior to cooking them to increase Vitamin D levels.
The Farmer as Part of the Healthcare Team
Our goal with Farmacy at the Chef’s Garden is for the farmer to become part of the healthcare team, providing you with the most nutrient-dense, flavorful, deeply nourishing foods possible to help support your health and wellness. We are putting “food as medicine” into practice, making it easy to quickly select vegetables to support your needs through our Health and Wellness Collection pages. We hope you will try our regeneratively farmed, harvested to order, farm-fresh vegetables shipped right to your doorstep and we would love for you to join our Farmacy at the Chef’s Garden family on Facebook!