It is important not to get caught up with limiting your diet to only a few foods, as it takes a variety of food sources from carbohydrates, protein, and fats to provide us with all the essential nutrients. But, with that said, if you are looking for foods to boost your immunity, prevent inflammation, and disease here is my favorite list of phytochemicals (plant compounds) and nutrients.
Allium compounds contain Allyl sulfides found in onions, garlic, scallions, leaks, and chives that have been shown to inhibit tumor growth and may reduce the risk for heart disease. When garlic is crushed, and lightly sautéed, the allium breaks down to allicin reducing our LDL (bad) cholesterol and increases our HDL (good) cholesterol. Allicin is also considered antimicrobial.
Isothiocyanates in Cruciferous vegetables include arugula, Bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kale are high of indoles that may reduce inflammation and prevent certain cancers.
Citrus fruits contain high amounts of vitamin C that protect cell membranes from damage. The citrus peel contains Terpenes, also found in cherries and rosemary that may help the immune system. Vitamin C has been shown to prevent upper respiratory infections in heavily active endurance athletes who are susceptible to infections. Vitamin C may shorten the duration of a cold, but it does not prevent common colds. Foods high in vitamin C include bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cantaloupe, cauliflower, dark leafy greens, grapefruit juice, kiwi, papaya, potatoes, orange juice, strawberries, and tomatoes.
Carotenoids include red, orange, and dark green including carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squash, peaches, kale, spinach, and cantaloupe that are all good sources of beta-carotene. These contain phytochemicals and antioxidants that protect us from free-radical formation.
Saponins are a phytochemical found in legumes, herbs, sprouts, potato, and quinoa. Saponins have many benefits including anti-inflammatory, cancer prevention, helps to reduce cholesterol, boost the immune system, and may be protective against bone loss, and help with sinus-clearing.
Flavonoids are a large class of phenolic compounds in plants that may prevent inflammation, tumor growth, and help with immunity. Phenolic compounds in apples, blueberries, grapes, tea, cacao (cocoa unsweetened), coffee, dark chocolate, citrus fruits, peanuts, soy foods, wine, and parsley have a multitude of prevention and health benefits, and in olives, they help to reduce inflammation.
Polyphenols are phenolic compounds that may prevent inflammation, provide antioxidants, anti-carcinogenic, and may provide heart health. Foods high in polyphenols include berries, grapes, green tea, grains, and peanuts. Phenolic acids are polyphenols that include blueberries, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, oranges, grapefruit, and coffee. Phenolic acids prevent oxidative damage that is beneficial to the prevention of heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
Catechins are a flavonol found in tea, green tea, apples, pear, grapes, strawberries, and raspberries. Catechins are also in cacao, dark chocolate, and in lesser amounts in wine. Catechins provide cardiovascular benefits and may help the immune function.
Quercetin is a flavonol found in onions, parsley, leaf lettuce, tea, cherries and berries, red grapes, red wine, broccoli, and green peppers. Quercetin helps to prevent high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and it has anti-inflammatory properties with allergies.
Capsicum(pepper fruit) is a flavonoid in hot chili or hot red peppers that is an antioxidant that helps to protect DNA from carcinogens and provides anti-inflammatory benefits. Capsaicin may help with congestion and sinus, and it may reduce pain from arthritis and diabetic neuropathy, and it is a good source of tocopherol vitamin E compounds for reducing heart disease.
Curcumin is the active chemical in turmeric that is an anti-carcinogen. Turmeric (an herb used as a spice) combined with black pepper acts as an anti-inflammatory, and curcumin may have anti-bacterial effects.
Proanthocyanidins in cranberries reduce the risk of urinary tract infections.
Probiotics are good bacteria that aid in digestion and protect us against harmful bacteria, promoting a healthy gut. Probiotics are found in yogurt, kefir, fermented soft cheese, and miso soup. Prebiotics are non-digestible fiber found in carbohydrates, prebiotics is found in asparagus, oatmeal, bananas, legumes, artichokes, and in onions, garlic, and honey. Pre-and probiotics may aid in intestinal infections, diarrhea, irritable bowel, yeast infections, and reduce cold symptoms.
Shitake mushrooms have lentinan, a polysaccharide that helps our immune function.
By incorporating the majority of plant-based foods you will automatically be consuming phytochemicals and antioxidants to prevent disease, improve energy, and maintain health for living a better lifestyle.
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Kathy LaBella, RDN, CDN, CSSD, ACE-CMES/CPT