Food has always played a major role in how our bodies function. Consuming healthy, vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables can improve your mood and help reduce anxiety. Eating too many salty, sugary junk foods can lead to increased anxiety, high blood pressure and a number of other health complications.
During recent months, with the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been searching out ways to improve their health through natural supplements and even food. Studies have shown that eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, or a low-fat plant-based diet may give the body’s immune system the extra boost it needs.
Now, with more time on our hands than ever, it’s the perfect time to experiment with cooking using some of these vitamin-rich foods.
Vitamins C and E are antioxidants that help destroy free radicals (unstable molecules that can damage cells in the body) and support the body’s natural immune response. Usually, when you think of vitamin C, you immediately think of oranges, but foods such as red peppers, strawberries, broccoli, blueberries, mangoes and lemons are also great sources of vitamin C. The fruits especially make for great ingredients for a breakfast smoothie. Some sources of vitamin E include nuts, seeds, spinach, and broccoli.
An increase of vitamin D in the blood has been linked to preventing chronic diseases such as tuberculosis, hepatitis, and cardiovascular disease. Plant-based milk, such as oat, cashew, almond and coconut milk, are vitamin D-rich food sources. Each alternative milk source has different taste and nutritional benefits, so the choice of which one to buy often varies from person to person.
Zinc is a mineral that can help boost white blood cells that help the body fight against infectious disease, and helps reduce anxiety. Some great natural sources of zinc include nuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, flaxseeds, shrimp, lima beans and lentils. Shellfish, such as shrimp, are great low-calorie options to add zinc to your diet.
Antioxidants reduce inflammation and increase disease-fighting cells in the body. Beta-Carotene is a powerful antioxidant and can be found in sweet potatoes, carrots and green leafy vegetables. Antioxidants in berries, artichokes, and spinach, also aid in relieving anxiety. Adding a hearty salad into your meal planning each week can provide a great source of multiple vitamins and minerals listed here.
Probiotics help balance the natural bacteria in the digestive system. Studies have shown that the imbalance of this bacteria is linked to overall health. Some probiotics have been shown to promote the production of natural antibodies in the body and boost immune cells. Probiotics are best eaten raw as cooking can reduce some of the benefits.
Fermented plant-based foods contain beneficial probiotic bacteria. Some examples of these foods are tempeh, miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha. Many of these foods are of Asian origin such as tempeh, a fermented soybean product similar to tofu. It can be added to stir fry in place of chicken or beef.
If you find yourself reaching for a snack every afternoon in between meals, consider one of these healthy alternatives to junk food. These are some of my favorite snack food options, and they can be found in most grocery stores.
• Sensible Portions Garden veggie straws (gluten-free, non-GMO, kosher, no artificial flavors or preservatives).
• Boom Chicka Pop popcorn (uses sunflower oil & sea salt).
• Lenny & Larry’s The Complete Cookie (contains 16 grams of plant-based protein).
• Larabar bars (made with whole foods, vegan & gluten-free).
• Bare fruit or veggie chips (sliced & slowly baked).
Coronavirus has definitely presented a major interruption to our way of life, but at the same time, it gives each and every one of us an opportunity to expand our diet and cooking repertoire. Small changes, like the addition of vitamin-rich foods, can go a long way in boosting your immune system and overall health.
In addition to the foods listed above, try to incorporate some of these immune/mood-boosting foods into your diet:
Contains antioxidants known as flavonoids; the darker the chocolate, the better it is for you.
A spice used in curry dishes; it has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine to help inflammatory conditions, such as allergies, diabetes, and ulcers.
Fatty fish, such as salmon, are high in omega-3 fatty acids which aid in lowering the risk of coronary and heart disease and reducing cortisol levels resulting in reduced stress and improved mood.
A strong anti-inflammatory with antioxidant effects crucial for a healthy immune system
Contains a high concentration of sulfur-containing compounds which reduce inflammation and protect against certain bacteria
Cabbage, collards, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale provide sulfur-containing compounds similar to garlic, as well as vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients; they are best consumed raw, steamed, or lightly cooked to retain their nutrients; kale, spinach and broccoli are the best choices to aid in fighting off colds and the flu
Natural herb that calms the mind and tastes great in tea
An easy way to incorporate immune-boosting ingredients into your daily routine is by drinking Switchel, also known as apple cider vinegar water. It is a healthy, probiotic drink that lowers blood sugar, improves insulin sensitivity, builds healthy bacteria in the gut, lowers cholesterol, boosts immunity, aids with digestion and increases energy. Enjoy this drink first thing in the morning to aid the liver in cleansing, or in the afternoon for an energizing pick-me-up.
Switchel (Apple Cider Vinegar Water)
Servings: 4 cups
4 slices ginger (optional)
3 ¾ cups water, divided
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (like Braggs “with the mother in it”), or more to taste
Juice from ½ – 1 lemon (can substitute with limes or another citrus)
1 tablespoon honey (preferably raw) or maple syrup (sweetener is optional)
Optional: Pinch of pink Himalayan salt to add electrolytes
Place ginger in 1 cup of water in a small pot and bring to a boil. Let cool. Once cooled, pour the ginger water, 2 ¾ cups remaining water, apple cider vinegar, ½ of the lemon juice, and honey or maple syrup. Stir and adjust lemon and sweetness to your taste. It is important to let the warm water cool so you do not kill the healthy bacteria in the vinegar or health benefits of the raw honey. If in a hurry, omit the ginger and make the drink in a glass with lemon, vinegar, and sweetener. As you become accustomed to the vinegar taste you may want to lower or omit the sweetener. Store in a pitcher or mason jar in the fridge up to 1 week. If drinking throughout the day, leave at room temperature.
Start your day with this delicious plant-based recipe that helps give your immune system a boost!
Blueberry Cashew Pancakes
3 cups garbanzo bean flour (can substitute with whole wheat flour, buckwheat or millet flour, or a nut flour such as almond)
1 ½ tablespoons of sea salt
3 tablespoons baking powder
6 tablespoons coconut sugar
1 ¾ cups cold water
2 cups fresh blueberries (save some for garnish)
¾ cup cashews (save some for garnish)
1 ½ cups real maple syrup or honey
¼ cup avocado or coconut oil butter
Wash all produce before use. Heat griddle or non-stick pan on medium-high. Mix flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar together in a bowl, then slowly add water until desired thickness; batter should be pourable and spread while cooking. Spray griddle or pan with cooking spray and scoop batter into the center of the griddle or pan, leaving room for the pancakes to expand. Sprinkle a few blueberries and cashews onto pancakes. Once bubbles form across the pancakes and they start to look dry around the edges (1-3 minutes), they are ready to be flipped. Cook for an additional 30-60 seconds. Serve pancakes on a plate garnished with butter, blueberries, and cashews. Serve with maple syrup or honey.
Until our next cooking adventure, keep eating to thrive!
Steve Norton | Writer
A native of Santa Ana, California, Steve Norton has been in the hospitality industry for the past 30 years. He attended New York’s prestigious Culinary Institute of America and has worked as a private chef. Steve loves to share his knowledge and expertise in healthy eating, including menu planning, managing a food budget and cooking with fresh ingredients.
Read more by Steve Norton.