When it comes to your immune system, being an active woman can work for you or against you. Research shows that regular sweat sessions of moderate intensity have an extremely positive impact on the activity of your immune cells, which is largely why fit people tend to get sick less often.
However, for high intensity athletes and endurance junkies, such as CrossFitters and triathletes, it can be a different story. “Prolonged, high-intensity physical training puts a much larger stress on the body and can overwhelm the body’s antioxidant defenses,” says Joel Fuhrman, MD, family physician, nutritional researcher and best-selling author of Super Immunity (HarperCollins, 2013). The result, says Fuhrman, is oxidative stress and elevated stress hormones, such as cortisol, that are associated with weakened immune function. “A slightly suppressed immune system is not uncommon for high-intensity athletes,” he says. “This often leads to more frequent upper respiratory infections, which can disrupt training.”
Either way, as cold and flu season settles in, don’t take a chance with your health. Double up on immune protection by increasing your intake of fresh produce and continuing to train consistently. Need a little inspiration? Here are some meal ideas featuring foods that will come to your defense.
Recipe by Linda Melone
According to Fuhrman, several different varieties of mushrooms enhance immune defenses, particularly in the respiratory tract and your “natural-killer cell activity” (“NK cells”). “These are the immune cells that attack and destroy cells that are cancerous or infected with viruses,” he says. Mushrooms offer a mega dose of the mineral selenium (a cup of criminis provides 34 percent of your recommended daily intake), as well as decent amounts of zinc and manganese, all of which are necessary for the proper function of antioxidant enzymes.
Quick Spinach & Mushroom Frittata
Total time: 25 min
Makes 1 serving
Olive oil cooking spray
3 egg whites
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms, raw or cooked
1/2 cup chopped, cooked (or frozen and thawed) spinach
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped tomato or fresh salsa
1. Heat a medium skillet over medium heat.
2. Place egg and egg whites in a medium bowl and whisk to combine; gently add remaining ingredients.
3. Grease the pan with cooking spray. Pour the egg mixture into the heated pan and cook for 7 to 8 minutes or until almost set.
4. Remove skillet from heat, cover and let stand until no visible liquid egg remains, approximately 5 minutes. Add tomato or salsa in the center, if desired. Cut in half to serve.
Nutrients per serving:
Fat: 6 g
Carbs: 6 g
Fiber: 3 g
Protein: 21 g
Recipe by Charmaine Broughton-Dunn, chef and food writer
Kale, broccoli and cabbage, along with the rest of the Cruciferous vegetable family (think cauliflower, bok choy, arugula and Brussels sprouts) are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to defending you against invading viruses. Not only are they chalk full of antimicrobial properties (natural bacteria fighters), they are also known for releasing isothiocyanates (ITCs), powerful phytochemicals linked to both cancer prevention and immune support, when they’re chopped and chewed, adds Fuhrman.
Salmon and Kale Clam Chowder
Prep time: 15
Total time: 30
Makes 6 servings
4 Tbsp cornstarch
5 cups fish, vegetable or chicken stock, divided
1 tsp coconut oil
1 white onion, diced
1 small zucchini, chopped
½ red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 small carrot, chopped
½ tsp each dried thyme, ground nutmeg and sea salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ lb boneless skinless salmon fillet, chopped
1 142 g can whole baby clams, drained
1 227 mL can water chestnuts, drained and roughly chopped
½ lemon, squeezed
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
3 cups kale, de-stemmed and chopped
1 tsp hot sauce
1. Whisk 1 cup of the stock with cornstarch and set aside.
2. Heat oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Sautee onion, zucchini, pepper and carrot until soft (about 3 to 5 minutes).
3. Add seasonings, garlic, and remaining 4 cups of stock. Bring to a boil.
4. Add the stock and cornstarch mixture, seafood and water chestnuts. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes until salmon is cooked through.
5. Remove from heat. Stir in lemon zest, kale and hot sauce. Serve.
Go gourmet: Garnish each bowl with roughly chopped capers and fresh dill.
Nutrients per serving (one cup):
Fat: 4 g
Carbohydrates: 17 g
Fiber: 3 g
Protein: 15 g
Recipe by Tiffany Gaston, Fitness Model and Paleo cook
Thanks to its abundance of antibacterial properties, garlic has been used for centuries to combat everything from the common cold to the plague. Garlic and its onion cousins contain a powerful antibacterial and antifungal compound called allicin, as well as other phytochemicals that enhance our viral-killing defenses, says Fuhrman. These foods are most beneficial when consumed raw, as these compounds become less potent when heated. Raw garlic and onions have also shown to be cancer preventative.
Spicy Garlic Chicken Stir Fry
Prep time: 5-7 min
Total time: 20 min (plus marinating time)
Makes 2 servings
1 lb chicken breasts (preferably organic)
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
2-3 Tbsp crushed red pepper flakes
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
½ cup Coconut Aminos
3 cups broccoli, chopped
3 cups cauliflower, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green onion, chopped
1. Dice chicken into one inch pieces, marinate in a combination of freshly minced garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes and Coconut Aminos and refrigerate in an airtight container for 1-2 hours or up to overnight.
2. Coat a wok or skillet with 1 Tbsp olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add broccoli, cauliflower and onion. Season to taste with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.
3. Cook for approximately 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, but do not overcook. Broccoli should remain crisp and bright in color. Remove from heat and set aside.
4. Coat another skillet with 1 Tbsp of olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add diced chicken and stir-fry for 3-5 minutes or until juices run clear.
5. Lower heat to medium and add cooked vegetables, stirring until they are reheated. Season to taste with any additional red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to desired spiciness. Sprinkle with diced green onion and serve.
Nutrition Per Serving:
Protein: 32 g
Fat: 17 g
Carbs: 22 g
Fiber: 8 g
Photography by Paul Buceta