With the current world health climate, many of us are concerned about our resistance to illness, while simultaneously finding our mental status to be challenged with unprecedented stress. It’s true there are a lot of things we have no control over as we face new challenges everyday, but we can be proactive about the power on our plates with foods that support your immunity and mood.
While there is no specific “pandemic diet” or evidence that a particular food or nutrient can prevent infection, we do know the body needs a steady stream of whole food nutrients to function optimally. This includes supporting our immune and nervous systems to do what they do best. Nutrient deficiencies may lower immune function by hindering white blood cell performance and can also contribute to mood imbalances like anxiety and depression.
Did you know some foods can support both resilient immunity and mental wellness? You might be surprised to find that these everyday foods can have this positive double impact!
Here are some everyday foods to support your immunity and mood:
YOGURT (and it’s super beneficial relative – KEFIR)
Now more than ever is a good time to support your good gut bug world with probiotic foods. Healthy microbiota are key players in warding off all types of infection. In fact, the gut is sometimes referred to as the “immunity headquarters,” as 70-80% of the immune system relies on a healthy microbiome. Amazingly, probiotics are also important for the production of several neurotransmitters, and there is a lot of exciting new research being done on the gut-brain connection.
The most common probiotic foods are yogurt and kefir – made from dairy, coconut or nut-based milks. Unsweetened options are best for optimal probiotic effectiveness. There is also a water kefir option we love that tastes like a healthy soda pop.
Other probiotic foods include lacto-fermented vegetables such as pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi; fermented soy products like miso and tempeh; and fermented beverages such as kombucha. Kefir definitely tops the list for potency though, with up to 60 different bacterial strains and up to 30 billion CFU (colony forming units) per ½ cup serving!
Prebiotic foods are also important to feed to those healthy gut bugs. This includes everyday foods like: onions, garlic, carrots, asparagus, leeks, barley, oats, bananas, apples, and cocoa.
Aim to eat both probiotic and prebiotic foods every day to promote mental and immune resiliency!
WALNUTS (and other Omega 3-rich nuts and seeds)
Have you ever noticed that walnuts look like tiny brains? This is a good visual for remembering these nuts are loaded with brain (and immune) boosting benefits! Walnuts and most other nuts and seeds are rich in healthy Omega 3 fatty acids, which have powerful anti-inflammatory properties and help modulate a healthy immune response. Perfect food to support your immunity and mood.
Enjoy everyday food sources of Omega 3 including nuts and seeds (especially walnuts, chia, hemp, pumpkin seeds, and ground flax seeds); wild fish such as salmon, arctic char, sardines, mackerel and herring; firm tofu, avocado, and even some green veggies like spinach and brussel sprouts!
Eating a diet that is rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables is the biggest key to delivering the required phytonutrients your body requires to function optimally. Berries are especially wonderful as a low-glycemic fruit option – loaded with immune and brain beneficial antioxidants and high in Vitamin C. Also, try adding berries to your water for some extra flavouring without added sugar to help support your immunity and mood!
Mushrooms sneakily pack a surprising nutritional punch. They contain B vitamins which support brain energy, as well as a powerful antioxidant called selenium, which helps to support the immune system and prevent damage to cells and tissues. Many types of mushrooms have been studied extensively for their immune-modulating and enhancing abilities; this includes the commonly consumed varieties such as white, crimini and Portobello. Other varieties such as Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps, and Chaga have been recognized for their neuro-protective and immune supportive properties.
Pro tip: make a smoothie with frozen mixed berries, yogurt/kefir, and some walnuts, chia or hemp seeds for a healthy dose of all of the above! Add some chaga mushroom powder for a bonus boost.
Most of all during this pandemic season, it’s important to enjoy having fun and being creative with food at home, while mindfully fueling up with supportive everyday nutrients to stay well physically and mentally.
About the author: Heather @livefullynutrition is our in-house Holistic Nutritional Consultant and the Community Engagement Lead for SPUD.ca and Blush Lane Organic Market in Edmonton, Alberta. She loves to make connections between people and healthy options, is an enthusiastic wellness educator, and enjoys teaching cooking classes. You can find her whipping up new recipes, cycling in the river valley or sipping on a soy latte.