By Sue Bedford (MSc Nutritional Therapy)
Effective immunity requires appropriate nutrition. Deficiencies of certain nutrients can result in the suppression of immune function. Environmental toxins, stress, lifestyle factors, pollution and genetic make-up can place further strain on our immune system. Humans have had a long relationship with micro-organisms (bacteria, fungi, viruses) and whilst many are normally present within our bodies, many are also potentially pathogenic and capable of causing serious disease if able to invade our mucosal barrier or the skin. Effective immune function needs adequate levels of specific nutrients to protect against invasion from unwanted micro-organisms and to help to assist where necessary to return our immune system to a ‘resting’ situation when protection is not required.
The essential defence mechanisms in our body rely heavily on the entire gastrointestinal tract functioning efficiently including the bacteria present in the gut (the microbiome).
Consuming specific foods that benefit the immune system is a great way of helping protect the body against infection. Pre- and probiotic-rich foods help to enhance the microbial diversity in the gut. Vitamin C rich foods have an important role too as a powerful antioxidant and help to mop up free radicals which can lead to stress and ageing of cells. Additionally, avoiding foods that promote infection like heavily processed foods, sugar and fizzy drinks is also key to enriching the microbiome and supporting immunity.
Mushrooms are fantastic when it comes to supporting the immune system and general health too……
Mushrooms are packed full of amazing nutrients and have been involved in the health of humans since ancient times. The compounds in mushrooms help to support the immune system and prevent infections (they are known to contain anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties) and have been linked in studies to helping prevent auto immune diseases such as arthritis.
Mushrooms are versatile and are often used to substitute meat – they are easy to add to salads, soups, breakfast, and pasta dishes.
Mushrooms are a great source of protein, are rich in selenium and vitamin D and are a good source of B vitamins including folate and niacin which are all important to fertility and general health too. Eaten raw mushrooms are a great prebiotic food and help to feed the ‘good’ bacteria in the gut. The very fact that white mushrooms contain a great amount of vitamin D (they absorb more when placed in sunlight) means that they are great not only in relation to supporting the immune system but also for hormone health and bone health.
Shiitake mushrooms contain some amazing properties and attract lots of attention due to these and rightly so. Rich in vitamin D, low in calories, a good source of fibre (to help the gut) and also contain sterols and lipids linked to lowering cholesterol and supporting the immune system. They are rich in some important B vitamins too which help to lift mood and reduce anxiety.
Mushrooms contain some biologically active polysaccharides….known collectively as beta-glucans.
There are some biologically active polysaccharides to be found in mushrooms, which are known as beta-glucans. These are found in plant cell walls (including fungi and bacteria) and can also be found in numerous plant-based foods including seaweed, oats and barley. There has been some interesting research into their properties and our immune systems treat them as ‘non self’ as they are not produced by humans. Beta glucans bind to specific receptors on human cells (specifically T cell receptors) and help to trigger the activation of certain immune responses to destroy affected cells thus supporting the immune system. There will be a separate article coming soon on beta-glucans.
Mushroom and spinach curry
1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
450 g mushrooms, sliced
1 brown onion sliced
2 fat cloves of garlic crushed
1 x 5cm piece of ginger peeled and finely grated
1 red chilli chopped finely
1 heaped tsp ground fenugreek
1 heaped tsp turmeric
1 heaped tsp medium curry powder
1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
1 x 400g can coconut milk
100 g baby spinach leaves
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 small handful of coriander/cilantro leaves to serve
lime wedges to serve
How to make:
Heat the oil in a large sauté pan. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes over a medium heat. The onions should be soft and golden.
Add the garlic, ginger and chilli and cook for another 2 minutes. Stir in the spices and cook for 1 minute. Add a splash of water if it gets too dry.
Next, add the mushrooms and a splash of water and stir until the mushrooms are covered in the spices. Season with the salt and pepper.
Pour in the can of tomatoes and stir. Leave to simmer for 5 minutes. Then add the coconut milk, stir and leave to simmer gently for another 5 minutes.
Add the spinach. As soon as the spinach has wilted the curry is ready. Serve immediately with basmati rice (white or brown), lime wedges and some coriander leaves.
Cheese and chilli stuffed mushrooms
Ingredients: (makes 4 portions)
8 field mushrooms
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1 green chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
85g cheese of your choice
3 tablespoons grated Cheddar cheese
2 rashers streaky bacon, cooked and chopped (optional)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
How to make:
Preheat the oven to 180 C. Grease/line a baking dish with greaseproof paper.
Carefully remove the stems from the mushrooms and chop the stems finely.
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and saute the chopped mushroom stems, garlic and chilli until softened and until mushrooms release moisture – for about 10 minutes.
In a small bowl, combine the cheese, cheddar cheese, chopped bacon and mushroom/chilli mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Spoon the mixture into mushrooms, allowing it to mound slightly on top of the mushrooms. Depending on the size of your mushrooms, you may need to use more/less mushrooms in accordance with the amount of filling.
Place the mushrooms in prepared baking dish and bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until cheese begins to brown. Serve straightaway.
Immune supporting Shiitake Mushroom and Pak Choi broth
Ingredients (3 portions – double up as appropriate)
- 8 shiitake mushrooms, cleaned, stems removed and thinly cut
- 4 Pak choy, washed and cut vertically in half
- 1.5 tbsp rice vinegar
- 3 garlic, grated
- 2 thumb-sized ginger, peeled and grated
- Pinch of Sea salt
- 200g noodles
- 700 ml of vegetable stock
- 1 tbsp of Olive oil
How to make:
- In a saucepan, cook the noodles according to package instructions, drain and set aside.
- Use the same saucepan to bring the vegetable stock to the boil and place aside.
- In a wok over a medium heat, heat the olive oil and add the garlic and ginger, cook for roughly about 1-2 mins.
- Add the shiitake mushrooms and cook until soft.
- Then, add the pak choi and cook until soft, but still crunchy.
- Add rice vinegar and a sprinkle of salt and continuously to stir for another 1-2 mins. Adjust the seasoning, if needed.
- Into serving bowls, first add the noodles, then the vegetable stock. Finally top the bowl with Pak Choi and Shiitake mushrooms