The following article was written by Heinen’s Chief Dietitian, Melanie Jatsek RD, LD.
Functional foods are those that deliver very specific functionality—beyond their basic nutritional value—to enhance health and wellness. That’s why Club Fx Pillar #6 is dedicated exclusively to functional foods, which includes an array of herbs, spices, fermented foods, mushrooms and functional food powders.
When it comes to building immune strength, there are two functional foods best suited for the job: mushrooms and herbs and spices.
Rich in antioxidants, mushrooms help strengthen the immune system and also protect the body’s cells from damage that can lead to chronic diseases.
All mushrooms are amazing; however, I’d like to challenge you to explore beyond the basic white button variety. Maitake, shiitake and lion’s mane mushrooms are among the best! In addition to their brain-boosting abilities, they are immune powerhouses that can stimulate your natural killer cells, a type of white blood cell that plays an important role in immunity against viruses.
You can find these, and other varieties of fresh mushrooms, in Heinen’s Produce Department, or as powders in the Wellness Department for added convenience. Mushroom powders can be easily mixed into hot cereal, like this Superfood Flax Meal, or stirred into a mug of warm plant-based milk for a soothing functional beverage.
One of the best ways to enjoy fresh mushrooms is in soups and stews. I like to make a thick mushroom stew and serve it over a bean-based pasta like Liviva or Explore Cuisine. It’s the ultimate comfort food!
Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices, especially in their fresh form, are also powerful immune boosters. They are packed with natural plant compounds called phytochemicals, which are important for the growth and survival of the plant. As it relates to immune health, phytochemicals stimulate our first line immune defenses, like natural killer cells.
Some of the most powerful herbs and spices are ginger, rosemary, parsley, dill and thyme.
Here are a few simple ways to add fresh herbs and spices to your daily diet:
- Add fresh dill to a cucumber salad
- Blend a slice or two of fresh ginger into a smoothie.
- Stir rosemary or thyme into cooked carrots
- Add fresh parsley to soups
Functional foods support your immune system in many ways, but to receive maximum benefit, aim for consistency and diversity. To keep from getting bored, add two new herbs and spices to your grocery cart every week, then find a way to sneak them into your meals.