Immunity-Boosting Beauty Foods


Red nose and puffy eyes? Not pretty.

In the midst of cold season, it’s tempting to grab a pill or a vaccine to keep our immune defenses running high. But for most of us, boosting our immunity by incorporating more immune-strengthening foods in our diet gives us adequate natural protection, AND we’ll be getting double the benefits thanks to their natural anti-aging, beautifying properties. You’ll want to put the following foods, which promote both immunity and beauty, on your grocery list for the winter, and any other time when you need a little health and beauty boost. Don’t forget that food IS medicine, and that that powerful healing compounds can also be found in things that we enjoy eating or drinking, not just tasteless supplements that get washed down with a swig of water.

Ready to tackle the flu virus and brush off oncoming cold germs? You’ll do just that, and keep your skin looking radiant, with these immune-boosting beauty foods:

Mushrooms. In decades past we believed that mushrooms were pretty low in nutrients, but we now know that they have powerful disease-fighting properties that go beyond vitamins and minerals alone. While different types of mushrooms have distinct healing properties, all mushrooms are prized for their ability to eliminate mucus and toxins in the body, and their natural detox powers are fantastic for our inner health and outer appearance. Shiitakes (included in the recipe below) fight colds and flu, allergies and a depressed immune system, while white button mushrooms (also included) are full of B vitamins and detoxifying power.

Pickles…or sauerkraut, kimchi, miso and any other fermented food for that matter.  Fermented foods populate your digestive tract with friendly, immune-boosting bacteria that help you assimilate nutrients and stay your healthiest. Some experts estimate that the majority of your body’s immune powers originate in your gut! Good digestion is a major factor in overall health and beauty (if your digestive system doesn't eliminate waste well, your skin is overburdened with the task), so aim to eat just a little fermented food every day to maintain the proper balance. Make sure your pickles are cured in a salt brine, not vinegar like most kinds you find in the grocery aisle, to ensure that they contain good probiotic bacteria.

Green Tea with Lemon. It’s the beverage that dermatologist Nicholas Perricone calls ‘the wrinkle blocker,’ thanks to powerful phytochemicals called catechins that prevent the activation of collagen-digesting enzymes in the body. Drinking green tea is not only a stress-reducing ritual, it’s a dose of preventative medicine. And a 2010 International Journal of Cancer study found that ingesting a little citrus juice with your green tea enhances its disease-preventing potential by stabilizing its natural polyphenols during digestion. 

Garlic. A classic cold-fighter, garlic is a strong antifungal, antibacterial food that keeps our bodies adept at fighting off disease by boosting our white blood cell defenses.  While you’re adding a few extra cloves to soups, stews and sauces this winter, know that garlic is also a metabolism-booster and a blood sugar stabilizer— fantastic for burning calories and preventing wrinkles.

Ginger. Next time you feel a chill coming on, reach for ginger root to increase your circulation and, in turn, your body’s natural cleansing abilities, especially of the skin, bowels and kidneys. Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory, and it eases congestion and existing cold and flu symptoms, in case you’re already under the weather.

Salmon. Have you heard that salmon is one of the all-time best beauty foods? It’s packed with anti-inflammatory omega fats and collagen-building protein. But it gets even better: salmon is a rare dietary source of vitamin D, an important immunity vitamin (actually a hormone) that may of us lack in the winter when we spend less time in the sunshine. Salmon is also a source of zinc, a clear skin mineral that also helps with the growth of new cells and collagen.  A 2012 Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry study linked zinc deficiency to disease-related inflammation and even DNA damage. According to the study, about 40 percent of Americans are zinc deficient and deficiency risk increases with age.

Here’s a recipe that can serve as a light entrée or side dish. Either way it’s a powerful immune and beauty enhancer, and it’s savory enough to serve at any of your holiday meals.

Garlic Mushrooms with Sage Polenta

Serves 4

2 tbsp. tamari

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 tsp umeboshi plum vinegar

2 tsp coconut oil, divided

1 tbsp chopped sage

3 cups filtered water

1 tsp sea salt

1 cup yellow corn meal

2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage

½ lb. white button mushrooms, sliced

¼ lb. shiitake mushrooms, sliced

3 cloves garlic, minced

Mix tamari, sesame oil and vinegar in a small bowl and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tsp coconut oil over low heat. Add sage and cook, 1 minute. Add water and increase heat. When water boils, slowly add the dry corn meal, stirring to prevent lumps from forming. Reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover and set aside.

In a medium skillet, heat 1 tsp coconut oil over medium heat. Add red cabbage and cook 5 minutes, until partially softened. Add mushrooms and garlic and continue cooking 10 minutes more, until mushrooms reduce. Add tamari sauce and remove from heat.

Serve cornmeal topped with generous scoops of garlic mushrooms and sauce.


Mushroom image via Mike Licht