Before there were pills for every problem, there were plants. In a season rampant with COVID-19, influenza, and an array of harmful viruses and bacteria, consider adding immune-boosting ingredients to home-cooked meals for extra defense. The following groups of plants are known to protect you via several mechanisms.

1. Alliums

Onions, garlic, scallions, and shallots are some of the members of this amazing family. Among other high sulfurous compounds, they have diallyl disulfide (DADS), which is an organosulfur compound responsible for the characteristic pungent smell and flavor of alliums. These compounds regulate cytokine production and have anti-inflammatory properties, which improve the immune system in the long run. 

One way to use alliums is to mince them and cook until they are golden and aromatic, usually around 30 seconds on medium heat for garlic and scallions but longer for onions and shallots. Then, add the main part of the dish, whether it be meat, chickpeas, or fish and enjoy. 

#SpoonTip: Keep a supply of whole garlic in the fridge or minced garlic in the freezer—either option will keep for several months.

2. Dark Green Veggies

Cruciferous vegetables are a godsend for taste and nutritious qualities. Broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, and similar vegetables are excellent sources of vitamins and antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that search for and destroy free radicals in the body, which prevents cell degradation and strengthens the immune system. Conveniently, these dark green vegetables are all fantastic simply roasted with salt and pepper or within other dishes.

Spinach has folate which helps repair cells and DNA, along with  vitamin C, and other antioxidants—Popeye really knew what he was doing. Adding raw spinach to salads is a great way to eat spinach, but cooked spinach within other recipes like quiches also provides a variety of nutrients to be absorbed.

3. Spices

Turmeric's main active ingredient is curcumin, which is anti-inflammatory and antioxidant rich. It is best to consume with black pepper (active ingredient: piperine) which increases absorption into the bloodstream. Cinnamon has cinnamaldehyde (anti-inflammatory) and a large amount of polyphenols (antioxidants). Ginger's active ingredient is called gingerol, which is anti-inflammatory and antioxidant rich. Cayenne pepper fights harmful gut pathogens and improves digestive health, and has Vitamin A via beta carotene, which is a powerful antioxidant. 

The moral of the story is to add spices to meals! They are flavor and immune-boosting. Turmeric, ginger, and cayenne pepper are great is most savory dishes. They are commonly used in Asian and Southeast Asian cuisines, but fusion flavors are all the rage, and adding them to other cuisines is a great way to create new dishes. Cinnamon is usually used in sweeter dishes. An easy way to eat more cinnamon is by adding it to oatmeal. All of these spices are great flavoring for meat rubs, curries, and more.

4. Fruits

Berries, pomegranates, bananas, citruses, and almost all fruits have health benefits. They are major sources of antioxidants and vitamins. Berries are low-calorie and very nutritious, with loads of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Pomegranates have antioxidant, antiviral, and anti-tumor properties, also from high levels of vitamins and other compounds. Vitamin C is found in high amounts in citrus fruits, bananas, and papaya, and it increases the amount of white blood cells which attack invaders and support the immune system. 

Increase fruit consumption by eating them raw or in smoothies, sorbets, and pastries—even use them in savory dishes with fish or vegetables, or in a marinade for meats. 

5. Teas

Both black and green teas have flavonoids and polyphenols which have antioxidant properties. Green tea from Camellia sinensis in particular, is high in the catechin polyphenol called EGCG which is very effective in reducing inflammation and preventing Western diseases. If drinking tea isn't enjoyable for you, add it to pastries or dairy, make rubs, use it for marinating proteins, or incorporate into pasta.

There is also an abundance of immune-boosting herbal teas. Some examples are peppermint tea, ginger tea, Echinacea tea, and lemon balm tea.

While all of these ingredients will help you stay healthy, also remember to exercise, do routine check-ups, and seek medical help when needed! It is important to know when modern medicine will save your life and prevent suffering. 

I hope that this is a helpful guide to incorporating immune-boosting foods to your diet if you don't already consume them. Diet is a very important part of health, and as the old saying goes: an apple a day keeps the doctor away.