Summer is vacation season, and here’s good news about those breaks from the daily grind: They’re not only fun, they’re also good for you. Specifically, they’re good for your health, and even more specifically, your heart health. That was the…
Boost Your Immune System With These Expert Tips (and Recipes!)
A healthy immune system is important throughout the year, but even more so during cold and flu season and while we remain at-risk of contracting COVID-19. In honor of National Nutrition Month, celebrated in March, we tapped into campus experts in health and nutrition to gather tips for bolstering your immune system while we await warmer days ahead this spring.
When It Comes to Food, Prioritize Variety and Balance
Eating a diverse and well-balanced diet can help ensure we get the array of vitamins and minerals our immune system needs to function well. “When looking for recipes that support immunity, think color!” says Gail Grozalis, executive director of wellness in the Office of Human Resources. “Eat the rainbow—fruits and veggies that are red, purple, orange, deep greens and yellow tend to be high in antioxidants and will help strengthen your immune system.”
Focus on a reasonable balance of the three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate and fat) to ensure you’re not depriving your body of anything it needs to rebuild, repair and fight off infection. To take things to the next level, Grozalis recommends incorporating fermented foods (e.g., homemade kraut, kimchi, pickles and yogurt) into your eating plan, and limiting sugar and processed foods—both of which can create inflammation in the body, weakening the immune system.
Nutrients of Interest
Many of us intuitively reach for the orange juice or crave warm chicken soup when we feel a cold coming on. This could be because our body is craving certain nutrients that can help boost immunity.
According to Ruth Sullivan, assistant director of nutrition management in Food Services, there are several nutrients that play a role in good immune system health. “Protein is important for healing and recovery—I recommend lean proteins like poultry without the skin, sirloin and tenderloin, beans and tofu,” she says. Vitamin A (found in citrus fruits, spinach, carrots and squash), Vitamin C (citrus fruits, broccoli, bell peppers) and Vitamin E (almonds, oils, avocados) help protect against infection and form antibodies and antioxidants. Zinc (chicken, cashews, spinach) can also be important to wound healing, says Sullivan.
Lifestyle Choices Matter
While eating healthful foods is an important foundation, other lifestyle factors can also impact immunity. Grozalis recommends getting adequate sleep—between seven and nine hours on a consistent basis—to support the immune system.
Sullivan emphasizes the importance of regular exercise, staying tobacco-free, managing stress and maintaining a healthy body weight. “We want to think about everything that plays a role in keeping our immune system healthy, not just food,” she says.
Tofu Lo Mein
- 8 ounces lo mein egg noodles (or any other noodle)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups cremini mushrooms, sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, julienned
- 1 carrot, julienned
- 1/2 cup snow peas
- 3 cups baby spinach
- 14 ounces tofu
For the sauce:
- 2 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon Sriracha
- In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, ginger and Sriracha; set aside.
- Open and wrap tofu in paper towels.
- In a large pot of boiling water, cook noodles according to package instructions; drain well.
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet or wok over medium high heat. Add garlic, mushrooms, bell pepper and carrot. Cook, stirring frequently, until tender, about 3-4 minutes. Stir in snow peas and spinach until the spinach has wilted, about 2-3 minutes.
- Add tofu to soy sauce and cook for a minute.
- Stir in egg noodles and soy sauce mixture, gently tossing to combine.
- Serve immediately.
Recipe courtesy of Food Services.
Chipotle-Mango BBQ Chicken
- 1 1/2 cups mango, peeled, pitted and roughly chopped
- 3/4 cup fresh cilantro (loose pack, not chopped, stems and all)
- 2 chipotle peppers in adobo, plus 1 tablespoon adobo sauce
- 2 tablespoons unseasoned rice wine vinegar
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon canola oil, plus extra for grill
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 2 pounds chicken thighs and drumsticks, bone in, skin on
- Put the mango, cilantro, chipotle, vinegar, garlic, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of oil and salt and pepper, in a food processor and puree until smooth. Adjust seasonings, to taste.
- Add the chicken with half the mango mixture to a resealable plastic bag, and massage to coat the chicken with the sauce. Refrigerate at least 6 hours to marinate.
- Put the other half of the mango mixture into a small saucepan and simmer over low heat until thick, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Set some of the simmered chipotle-mango sauce aside to serve on the side and baste the chicken every few minutes with the rest of the sauce.
- Preheat a grill or grill pan to medium-high heat and brush with canola oil. Remove the chicken from the marinade and put on the grill.
- Grill the chicken, turning and basting every 5 minutes until cooked through, about 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter and serve with the reserved mango sauce.
Recipe courtesy of Food Services.
Kale, Strawberry and Toasted Almond Salad With Feta
- 1 large bunch kale leaves, chopped (9 cups bite-sized kale leaves)
- Juice of 1 medium orange, divided
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 2 teaspoons honey
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup sliced strawberries (or blueberries, blackberries or raspberries)
- 1/4 cup dried currants or raisins
- 1/4 cup slivered almonds or pine nuts, toasted
- 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
- Remove and discard center ribs and stems from kale leaves. Tear kale leaves into bite-sized pieces.
- Combine kale, half of orange juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt in a large bowl. Massage kale by scrunching small amounts with your clean hands, then releasing and repeating.
- For the dressing, whisk remaining orange juice, orange zest, honey and pepper in a small bowl. Gradually whisk remaining 1/4 cup olive oil into the juice mixture to combine well. Set aside.
- Pour the dressing over kale. Add strawberries, currants and toasted almonds. Toss gently. Let salad ingredients marinate for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.
- Top with feta cheese just before serving.
Recipe adapted from eatright.org.