The Immune System -- what is it, again?

Your immune system is responsible for protecting your body against the invasion of yuck!

It’s designed to detect and ward off disease-causing pathogens, such as viruses, bacteria, and parasites… all of the things you don’t want! Sure, you can’t see it or taste it, or wrap your arms around it. It’s a bit mysterious! Like your very own invisibility cloak. But we do know that components of the immune system reside in your lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, lymphocytes (small white blood cells),  thymus, and leukocytes (high white blood cell count), all involved in eradicating unwanted invaders.

But… what’s food got to do with the immune system, anyway?

Ah! This gives me a great opportunity to talk about antioxidants. Many cellular processes, including those of the immune system, create a certain amount of waste, some of it in the form of free radicals. If these highly reactive substances aren’t neutralized, they can do some nasty things, including burning out immune cells prematurely. (Uh-oh!)

The immune response also causes inflammation, which is now thought to be a precursor to many conditions, including cardiovascular disease and cancer. This may be why immune cells tend to carry around lots of antioxidants, like a protective posse, picking off predatory free radicals and preventing them from doing damage.That brings me to glutathione, a major facilitator of detoxification and fulcrum of the immune system. As we age, our stores of glutathione tend to decrease, and the best way to get it is through food.

This is where you come in, with your magic powers to choose the right foods to help your immune system. Foods rich in cysteine, one of the three amino acids that make up glutathione, include whey (the watery part of milk), egg yolks, asparagus, avocados, and garlic. Those foods are like Pac-Man, chasing down and devouring free radical goblins.

Our immune system takes care of us, and we need to take care of it.

This is the season when we are exposed to cold weather outdoors and a lot of people’s stuff floating around indoors. Foods that are super high in antioxidants become especially important, like little vacuum cleaners that clean up all the rust, prevent oxidative stress, and plump up our cells, keeping the cloak clean and pristine, versus moths getting in and ripping holes in it.

Time to add Vampire Slayer’s Soup to your repertoire!

Garlic has a long list of health benefits: antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-vampiric (okay, I admit it’s been hard to find research studies on that last one), and much, much more. Garlic lovers will gravitate toward this soup, but I want to convince those of you who say, “Garlic? Eww!’ to try it. Those overwhelmed by garlic’s natural pungency will delight in how roasting transforms the garlic into a caramelized, sweet-smelling delight. In this recipe, roasted garlic is simmered in the broth, adding to the gentle mellowing. Further fortified with Yukon gold potatoes, thyme, pepper, onion, and a spritz of lemon, this nutritious soup will arm you to the teeth . . . so to speak.

Two more stars for nourishing your immune system are featured in this delicious Avocado Citrus Salad.

Citrus is another super immune-protective winter food. Get out your lemons & limes, oranges and grapefruits! With an abundance of vitamin C providing powerful antioxidant support, citrus fruits are renowned for improving cardiovascular health and protecting the immune system. Limes and oranges are also noted for anti-cancer and antiinflammatory properties. Avocados have been shown to destroy cancerous and precancerous cells, and provide brain-healthy fat that helps us feel satiated. And of course, citrus and avocados are a match made in taste heaven. What more could you ask of a salad?

In the winter, go for warm beverages.

In the winter, I don’t walk around with a water bottle, I walk around with a thermos, frequently containing hot water with lemon. That’s my beverage of choice when I wake up in the morning, too. And, ok, this may be trendy! But not really. Models do it now, but my great-grandfather in Russia did this, too! Or at least when he moved to the US in 1906, and had ready access to lemons.

And whether classic or trendy, it’s HIGHLY recommended. 8 ounces of warm water with the juice of… whatever you can stand! Half a lemon, a quarter of a lemon… it doesn’t matter. Just that idea that you are waking up our cells.  And I tend to drink Tulsi holy basil tea, mixed with ginger tea and lemon. Or sometimes I make my recipe for Spa in a Pitcher with hot water. Or you could just do hot water with a slice or wedge of orange and lemon, with a sprig of mint.

Citrus is your friend for winter.