Immune Boosters: 9 Wonder Foods
4. Squash Sickness
Like carrots, pumpkin and other winter squash get their earthy orange tones from alpha- and beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A. Beta-carotene is a mighty antioxidant that increases production of immune-supporting white blood cells, which rapidly respond to virally infected cells and tumors. Beta-carotene has even shown promise in the prevention of exercise-induced asthma symptoms.
But winter squash offer benefits that extend beyond their rich hues. Studies are finding that the carbohydrates in these hearty vegetables house starch-related components that also have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and even insulin-regulating properties.
How to Enjoy: Pumpkin puree makes a delicious addition to warm beverages, soup and chili. Or simply indulge in roasted fresh winter squash. Peel, seed and cut a 3-pound butternut squash into 1-inch chunks. Place on a baking sheet and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper.
Roast for 20-30 minutes at 400° F, turning once half way through. And don’t cut back on the oil; it aids the absorption of fat-soluble beta-carotene.
5. Citrus A-Peel
Sunny in flavor and color, it’s easy to mistake citrus for warm weather fruit, but they are actually at their peak during cooler months. “Grapefruit, oranges and lemons are loaded with vitamin C, an antioxidant well known for its immune-strengthening properties,” says dietitian Begun.
There is debate on exactly how vitamin C works to fend off illness, but research has shown that it is found in high concentrations in immune cells and is quickly consumed during infections. For the allergy-prone, vitamin C is also a natural antihistamine.
Another, lesser known benefit of citrus is the compound limonin, which gives the fruit and peel its bitterness. In animal and human cell studies, limonin exhibited lasting anti-carcinogenic effects in certain cancers, including colon and breast.
How to Enjoy: Begun recommends squeezing lemons, limes, oranges or grapefruit into drinks, sauces and dressings for a pop of flavor enhancement.
Her suggestion was employed in our Massaged Kale Salad with Pomegranate and Citrus.
Next: Cruciferous vegetables, teas and more