14 Greek superfoods that we all have in our kitchen and that will boost our immune system.
Do you really avoid crowded places so as not to get sick? Do you stay up till late at night or travel a lot? Do you feel exhausted, having no energy at the end of the day? Do you have a constant sore throat or sniffle all autumn and winter long? So, you have one more reason to enhance your body defenses, in any way you can.
However, how would you choose the appropriate (Greek) nourishment? What should it contain to be able to reinforce immune system function?
Meet a powerful antioxidant
Several vitamins and minerals have favorable effect on immunological function, as being glutathione synthesis cofactors (1). Glutathione is a tripeptide, made of three different amino acids: glutamate, cysteine, and glycine. It is the main endogenous antioxidant produced by cells; it participates in free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) scavenging, whereas it preserves ingested antioxidants, such as vitamins E and C.
Glutathione affects metabolic and biochemical reactions including DNA synthesis and repair, protein synthesis, prostaglandins production, amino acids transportation, as well as enzymes activation (1). Studies indicate that adequate glutathione production leads to alleviated immunological response and significant lessening of inflammation (2).
What should food contain to support immune function?
It appears that foods rich in glutathione synthesis precursors (glutamate, cysteine, and glycine) may help enhancing immune system function. In addition, foods that contain B-complex vitamins, folate, vitamins C and E, as well as minerals (such as selenium, magnesium and zinc) also play an important role (3). Aliments containing vitamin D, magnesium, and zinc are proven to enhance glutathione production (3). Besides that, vitamin D itself is crucial in prevention and treatment of infection (4).
On the other hand, foods rich in antioxidants boost immune system by releasing glutathione to repair DNA and remove toxins (3, 5).
Which are these foods that satisfy these requirements?
According to the above, we end up choosing 14 foods, which you all have in your kitchen; all of them are produced in Greece and are capable of alleviating immunological response:
Broccoli: it exerts antibacterial, antiviral, and antitumor effects due to high concentration of vitamin C, fiber, selenium, and other phytochemical compounds (6).
Beetroot: known for the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of its pigments. It is also rich in folate, manganese potassium, iron, as well as vitamins B6 and C (7).
Onion: its flavonoids exert antioxidant activity, whereas it is one of the few sources of cysteine (8).
Garlic: it is proven that garlic possesses antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties. It activates immunological response, reduces blood clot formation, whereas it participates in decreasing blood pressure and cholesterol levels (8).
Parsley: fresh parsley is a good source of vitamins C and K, iron, zinc, folate, magnesium, and fiber (9). However, it should be avoided by patients under anticoagulant medication (due to its vitamin K content), and pregnant women as parsley oils may induce uterus convulsion.
Beans: rich in potassium, B-complex vitamins, and amino acids glutamate and glycine. Beans should be consumed twice a week, as recommended (10).
Sesame: it is a principal source of the three amino acids that constitute glutathione; it also contains magnesium and zinc, which play a critical role in vitamin D production and glutathione functionality. Sesame possesses anti-inflammatory properties, as studies indicate (11).
Almonds: just 30gr of almonds provide 35% of recommended daily intake of vitamin E, whereas they are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids (12).
Walnuts: they are characterized by high concentration in vitamins B1, B2, B6, folate, E, and selenium. Walnuts also contain all three glutathione’s amino acids, along with magnesium, and zinc (12).
Caper: it flourishes mainly in Aegean islands and it’s characterized of high flavonoid concentration. Quercetin, its main flavonoid compound, possesses antibacterial properties and substantially enhances immune system function (13).
Sour cherries: they are a natural source of melatonin, which promotes glutathione formation; melatonin also assists in sleep procedure. In addition, sour cherries are rich in anti-inflammatory anthocyanidines (14).
Cranberries: already known in ancient years and Homer’s era; cranberries are supposed to be the food given to Odysseus and his companions by Kirke. They provide vitamin C, potassium, fiber, and high amounts of antioxidant compounds (15).
Fish: it is always a good source of vitamin D, glutamate, and glycine. Large and fatty fishes, such as salmon, tuna, swordfish or mackerel, provide large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids that exert anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity (16).
Chocolate: it is proven that cocoa has huge concentration of antioxidant compounds that promote blood vessels elasticity and normal function (17).
It’s a matter of need
In all, by incorporating most of the above foods into your weekly dietary plan you will provide your body with the appropriate nutritional provisions in order to ensure normal glutathione production. As a result, immune function will be enhanced. Besides, it is of high importance to improve food quality, especially if you run a very stressful, fast-paced and demanding way of life…
By George Milessis MSc. Clinical Dietitian – Nutritional Ambassador of MyGreekHeart (www.milessis.gr)
- Dröge W, Breitkreutz R. Glutathione and immune function. Proc Nutr Soc. 2000 Nov;59(4):595-600. Review.
- Morris D, Khurasany M, Nguyen T, Kim J, Guilford F, Mehta R, Gray D, Saviola B, Venketaraman V. Glutathione and infection. Biochem Biophys Acta. 2013 May;1830(5):3329-49.
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- Laaksi, I et al. An association of serum vitamin D concentrations < 40 nmol/L with acute respiratory tract infection in young Finnish men. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007; vol. 86 no. 3 714-717
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- Klewicka E, et al. Protective effect of lactofermented red beetroot juice against aberrant crypt foci formation, genotoxicity of fecal water and oxidative stress induced by 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo[4,5-b] pyridine in rats model. Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology. 2012; 34(3): 895-904
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- Yousofi A, Daneshmandi S, Soleimani N, Bagheri K, Karimi MH. Immunomodulatory effect of Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) essential oil on immune cells: mitogen-activated splenocytes and peritoneal macrophages. Immunopharmacol Immunotoxicol. 2012 Apr; 34(2):303-8.
- Cherng Jaw-Ming, et al. Immunomodulatory activities of edible beans and related constituents from soybean. Food Chemistry 2007; 104(2): 613-8
- Chavali SR, Zhong WW, Utsunomiya T, Forse RA.Decreased production of interleukin-1-beta, prostaglandin-E2 and thromboxane-B2, and elevated levels of interleukin-6 and -10 are associated with increased survival during endotoxic shock in mice consuming diets enriched with sesame seed oil supplemented with Quil-A saponin. Int Arch Allergy Immunol. 1997 Oct;114(2):153-60.
- Soares MP. “Nuts and Bolts” of Disease Tolerance. Immunity 2014; 41(2): 176-8
- Ozgun-Acar O, Celik-Turgut G, Gazioglu I, Kolak U, Ozbal S, Ergur BU, Arslan S, Sen A, Topcu G. Capparis ovata treatment suppresses inflammatory cytokine expression and ameliorates experimental allergic encephalomyelitis model of multiple sclerosis in C57BL/6 mice. Neuroimmunol. 2016 Sep 15;298:106-16
- Wang H, et al. Antioxidant and Antiinflammatory Activities of Anthocyanins and Their Aglycon, Cyanidin, from Tart Cherries. J. Nat. Prod, 1999; 62 (2):294–6
- Ulrey RK, Barksdale SM, Zhou W, van Hoek ML.Cranberry proanthocyanidins have anti-biofilm properties against Pseudomonas aeruginosa. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2014 Dec 16;14:499
- Rauta PR, Nayak B, Das S. Immune system and immune responses in fish and their role in comparative immunity study: a model for higher organisms. Immunol Lett. 2012 Nov-Dec;148(1):23-33
- Skopiñska-Rózewska Ewa, et al. The influence of chocolate feeding of pregnant mice on immunological response of their progeny. Pol J Food Nutr Sci. 2004;. 13/54 (2): 67–70