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Eating Well is Our Best Defense

As a child, I remember my parents making me chicken soup when I had a cold. Upset stomach? My dad would make sure I had some ginger ale to settle it. We’ve all heard the saying “An apple a day, keeps the doctor away,” and while you’ll always find these staples in many homes, have you considered actively playing defense with your food to keep illness at bay?

The immune system is quite complex and understanding how it works is akin to understanding the NYC subway map. The immune system includes cells, organs, organ systems and antibodies — both acquired and innate — as well as many other defenders in our bodies. All these things work together until one of the pieces of this well-oiled machine decides to malfunction.

Our immune systems lose efficiency as we age. This delicate system can be affected by environmental toxins, autoimmune disorders, allergies and stress just to name a few. The things under our control include how much and how well we sleep, the quality of the foods we eat, how we manage stress and chronic inflammation associated with our body weight. Stress causes an increase in hormones, specifically cortisol, which can cause an interruption in the immune response, and chronic stress, a job hazard of meeting planning, causes inflammation which further affects our immune system.


Nutrients That Nourish

It’s no secret that food plays an important role in keeping us healthy and functioning at our best. Nutrient-rich and well-balanced meals bolster our immune systems and lower the risk of chronic disease. Whole, unprocessed foods are the best building blocks for a healthy immune system. Vitamins A, C and D have antioxidant properties, anti-inflammatory activity and immune-boosting powers. Probiotic and prebiotic foods fortify our immune defenses in the GI tract, a very important part of the immune system. The GI tract helps to ensure that bacteria in foods don’t get to our bloodstream and organs.

Foods rich in magnesium, iron, selenium and folic acid help our bodies deal with infection and fight inflammation. An interesting and often unmentioned fact is that taking supplements or loading up on certain vitamins and minerals doesn’t necessarily boost our immune system. Rather, having adequate levels of vitamins and minerals consistently present allows our immune systems to function as they should.


An Apple a Day

Are you wondering what foods check the immune booster boxes? Leafy greens, such as kale and spinach are chock full of vitamin C and magnesium. Sweet potatoes, butternut squash and carrots are vitamin A superstars and very helpful for infection prevention. Nut butters and whole nuts are rich in vitamin E and magnesium. Iron and selenium can be found in red meats and poultry, which is also a good source of zinc. Chickpeas, cashews and pumpkin seeds all contain beneficial zinc and can be added to dishes in creative and delicious ways. Imagine the curiosity of your attendees if you offered pepita hummus as a creative and delicious afternoon break item. Vegetarian diets are rich in foods that promote immunity such as beans, leafy greens, broccoli, oats and enriched products such as breads and rice.

Herbs and spices can also contribute to building up your defenses. Turmeric, cumin and ginger can be incorporated into recipes as a potent tool for health. Cinnamon, paprika and peppermint help the body react to, protect and process free radicals. Consider using herbs and spices in unique ways, such as at hot cocoa or tea stations.


Be Our Guest

As we head into the colder months with illnesses on the rise, it would be beneficial to offer immune-supporting foods on our event menus. Adding dark leafy greens to your salads with a zesty ginger and citrus dressing could be a delicious dish that many of our attendees might appreciate. Smoothie breaks are also a great way to get helpful fruits and vegetables on the menu. Chefs are creative by nature so tap into the genius of the culinary team to highlight immune-boosting ingredients.

Incorporating these ideas into our daily meal plans can help us stay well and at our best during the busy season as well. While it’s always best to get your vitamins and minerals from food, taking vitamins regularly should not be overlooked. A truly healthy immune system is like a garden, it takes time to cultivate and requires balanced and important nutrients. Getting ready to battle the onslaught of cold and virus germs takes effort and planning and planning is something we know how to do.

Sharon DeFelices, CMP

Sharon DeFelices, CMP, is the owner of Mosaic Meetings and Events. She has built her career on a foundation of nutrition and culinary arts. Sharon works with meeting planners and corporate clients as well as hotels and venues to improve healthy options at events and is a frequent speaker on Food and Nutrition for meeting professionals and hospitality organizations. Her passion for health and wellness through food helped her create the Blueprint for a Healthy Meeting ®, the culmination of food, nutrition, wellness and meeting planning. The Blueprint starts laying the groundwork for a meeting that fosters wellness through activities, menu architecture, dietary management and agenda design. Sharon lives in the south hills of Pittsburgh with her husband and enjoys cooking, gardening and the local sports scene.

Sharon DeFelices, CMP | LinkedIn

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