Eating to Strengthen Your Immune System

Your immune system is the body’s natural defense against infections and diseases. A healthy immune system is key to staying healthy and feeling your best, and diet plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy immune system.

Eating a balanced and diverse diet with plenty of whole foods will provide naturally-occurring nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants to help strength your immune system. Try to limit highly processed foods that may be stripped of nutrients through its production. Strive for diversity in your diet in order to get a wide spectrum of nutrients and exposure to different healthy gut bacteria. In fact, about 70% of our immunity comes from our gut! (Learn more about your gut and immunity here). When you feed your gut with foods that support and provide healthy bacteria, otherwise known as prebiotics and probiotics, it has an extensive impact on your immune system.

There are a few key nutrients to focus on that can help strength your immune system. These include Vitamin C and Vitamin E, both are antioxidants that helps protect cells from damage caused by free radicals and help boost production of white blood cells, which are essential to fight off infections. Vitamin A is another important nutrient for a healthy immune system. It helps maintain the integrity of the skin and mucous membranes, which act as the first line of defense against pathogens. In addition to vitamins, minerals: zinc and selenium are important to the immune system.

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Here are some of the best immune-boosting foods to add to your diet:

Citrus Fruits
Citrus fruits, such as oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes, are rich in vitamin C.

Berries, such as strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, are also rich in antioxidants and vitamin C. They are also a good source of fiber, which helps keep your digestive system healthy and promotes the growth of healthy gut bacteria.

Leafy Greens
Leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, and Swiss chard, are packed with vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A and C, which are essential for immune system function. Leafy greens are also a good source of folate, which helps produce new cells and repair DNA.

Ginger is another spice with immune-boosting effects. Ginger contains compounds called gingerols and shogaols, which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Ginger also has antibacterial and antiviral properties, and it may help boost immune system function.

Garlic has been well known for its medicinal properties including its immune-boosting effects. Garlic contains compounds that have antibacterial and antiviral properties.

Turmeric is a spice, and it has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin, which has been shown to boost immune system function and help prevent chronic diseases.

Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are a good source of healthy and they are rich in vitamin E, which is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage.

Yogurt is a good source of probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that help keep your gut healthy and support immune system function. Probiotics may also help reduce inflammation in the body, which can weaken the immune system. Other foods with probiotics are kefir, miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha.

Green Tea
Green tea is rich in antioxidants and polyphenols, which have been shown to have immune-boosting effects. Green tea may also help reduce inflammation in the body and improve gut health.

In addition to eating a diet rich in immune-boosting foods, it is important to stay hydrated, exercise, have adequate sleep, manage stress and not smoke to help maintain a strong immune system and keep it functioning at its best.

Recipe for Baked Oatmeal Squares

Looking for a super satiating breakfast or mid-day snack? Look no further! Try out these baked oatmeal squares. The taste and texture are great. The preparation for them is fairly straightforward and the best part is you can customize the recipe to your liking!

Scroll down for the recipe for baked oatmeal squares.

Follow this link for an instructional video: Recipe and video were shared by nutrition intern Nicole Smolen*.

Baked Oatmeal Squares

Recipe makes 15-16 oatmeal squares

Oatmeal Base
2 flax eggs (2 tablespoons ground flaxseed meal + 6 tablespoons water)
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1.5 cups non-dairy milk (unsweetened)
4 tablespoons pure maple syrup (adjust per sweetness preference)
1/2 cup apple sauce (unsweetened)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 nut butter (see note)

Choose 1/2 to 1 cup of the following:
-Dried fruit (cranberries, cherries, mango, coconut shreds, etc.)
-Mini chocolate chips, carob chips, or cacao nibs
-Seeds (pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, etc.)
-Chopped nuts (walnuts, cashews, peanuts, etc.)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat your pan with non-stick spray or use liners.
2. Prepare the flax eggs. Combine the ground flaxseed meal with 6 tablespoons of water. Stir well and allow it rest for 10-15 minutes.
3. In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients: oats, baking powder, and salt.
4. Next, you’ll whisk the wet ingredients together in a smaller bowl. This includes the non-dairy milk, maple syrup, apple sauce, nut butter, vanilla extract, and prepared flax eggs.
5. Pour your wet ingredients into the large bowl.
6. Mix in your toppings of choice. I chose 1/4 cup dairy-free dark chocolate chips, 1/2 cup dried cherries (naturally sweetened with apple juice), and 1/4 cup chopped walnuts.
7. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the edges are golden brown.

You can always substitute a mashed ripe banana for 1/2 cup of applesauce.
You can choose to reduce the maple syrup to 2 tablespoons. Adding the applesauce, dried fruits and/or chocolate chips can help with the sweetness.
It’s best to use a neutral nut butter. Cashew or sunflower are wonderful choices!
It’s best to chop any nuts and dried fruit before adding to your bars.


*Nicole is a nutrition enthusiast as well as an avid recipe developer. She is a self described foodie who enjoys creating plant-based recipes with a cinematic twist (utilizing her background in cinema, she combines it with her passion in food and nutrition to create fun recipes).

5 Ways to Add More Vegetables into Your Diet (Recipe Ideas Included)

A common question I get is, “How many fruits and vegetables do I need in a day?” A good rule of thumb for most adults is to aim for 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. This is the optimal amount that scientists have found an association with lower risks of many health conditions.

In this blog, nutrition intern, Nicole Smolen*, discusses why it’s important to include vegetables in your diet and provides practical ideas on how to get them in your diet, if you have trouble meeting the daily goal.

Vegetables offer countless nutritional benefits. A plant-rich diet not only offers important nutrients for our body, but it has been long recognized to help lower blood pressure, manage diseases, promote better gut and digestive health and may even prevent certain cancers. 

When it comes to incorporating vegetables into your diet, variety and quality are of equal importance. Eating a variety of vegetables will help provide a spectrum of essential vitamins and minerals. For example, spinach is a great source of vitamins A and K, calcium, iron, along with antioxidants. Broccoli contains twice the daily recommended amount of vitamin C. Peas are also filled with vitamins A, C, and K. You may find potassium and folate in beets. The possibilities are seemingly endless! Additionally, eating quality vegetables that are not processed (think whole vegetables vs vegetable crackers) are best to optimize its nutritional profile. 

Another important element of vegetables worth mentioning is:  Fiber. In order to promote gut health, prebiotics or specialized plant fibers—ranging from onions and garlic to asparagus—are wonderful additions to your diet. These kitchen staples feed the “friendly” gut bacteria. In other words, they boost your immunity and aid digestion. Fun fact: About 70% of one’s immune system is located in the gastrointestinal tract. So, we should be kind to our gut!

You can reap these rewards by incorporating more vegetables into your diet! But, what are the most simple and effective ways to turn this goal into a reality? Here is a brief list of ideas to help you out:

1. Design a meal plan

A solid plan requires preparation, but it definitely alleviates daily stress around meal times. You can start simply by buying fresh, seasonal produce. Clean, chop, and save vegetables in storage containers like these. Keep the healthy, refrigerated ingredients front and center. Instead of reaching for a handful of pretzels or chips, you can snack on baby carrots with beet hummus. Or you might gather a list of your favorite veggie-centric recipes. 

2. Make loaded vegetable soups or stews

Soups or stews are one way to pack a nutritional punch! The “everything but the kitchen sink” philosophy certainly applies here. Minestrone, tortilla, gumbo, and beef stews are some crowd pleasers. Have you considered blending your vegetables into a creamy, luscious soup? Cauliflower, carrots, celery, squash, broccoli, and potatoes are common bases! This brings me to another point…

3. Blend vegetables in smoothies

Combine your crisp vegetables with fruits, yogurts, nut butters, grains, or seeds to round out the flavor. Spinach, kale, carrots, beets, and cucumbers are popular additions. They typically play supporting roles in smoothies. How does a berry mango kale smoothie sound? Or a super green smoothie with matcha tea? We love a boost of antioxidants!

4. Reinvent vegetables

It helps to think outside the box! From Sweet Potato Crust Pizza and Guilt-Free Garlic Parmesan Zucchini Noodles Pasta to Easy Grillable Veggie Burger and Vegetable Meatloaf with Balsamic Glaze, there are too many creative substitutes to count.

5. Hide vegetables in baked goods

If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can hide greens in your sweet treats. Have you heard of cinnamon beet rolls, sweet potato pie, pumpkin bread, carrot cake, chocolate zucchini muffins, or avocado brownies? These recipes may seem outlandish, but the reviews rarely lie. Thankfully, a lot of adventurous chefs have explored new culinary frontiers and taken risks, so we can enjoy the delicious rewards!

As you can see, there is a lot of useful information here, but it is best to start small. Try not to let the list of ideas and facts overwhelm. Mark Twain once mused: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

List of Veggie-Centric Meals:

*Nicole is a nutrition enthusiast as well as an avid recipe developer. She is a self described foodie who enjoys creating plant-based recipes with a cinematic twist (utilizing her background in cinema, she combines it with her passion in food and nutrition to create fun recipes).

Seasonal Winter Vegetables to Add to Your Diet Today!

While we are in the midst of winter, take advantage of buying some of the best winter produce in season right now! What are some reasons to buy produce in season?

  1. They tastes better. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are grown at its preferred climate and when they’re picked for consumption, they are more likely to be naturally ripened on the vine or the tree. They tend to taste fresher, more flavorful and perfectly ripe. They also usually offer higher amounts of nutrients compared to when the same produce are grown and harvested off season.
  2. They’re more affordable. The costs of produce in season are typically lower because markets don’t have to source them from far away areas where the climate might be different thus saving money on transportation costs.
  3. Better for the environment. Buy locally-sourced produce to avoid the added costs of travel which can be associated with higher fuel emissions. One of the best ways to explore local and in season produce is to visit a farmer’s market.

See below for some ideas of current vegetables in season.
What are some of your favorite winter vegetables?

Infographic created by nutrition intern, Nicole Smolen

Understanding Different Cooking Oils

Nutrition enthusiast and recipe curator, Nicole Smolen*, explores different cooking oils in this guest blog post. Learn which cooking oils might be best for your daily use or for cooking certain dishes.

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Our ancestors prized rich flavoring agents including tallow, lard, and poultry fat. In ancient Africa, around 8,000 B.C., dairy products yielded animal fat and oil, in the form of butter. Early peoples eventually harnessed heat from the sun, a fire, or an oven, distilling precious cooking oils from plants. Southern Europeans have extracted olive oil since 3,000 B.C. 2,000 B.C. marks the beginning of soy oil production in China and Japan.

Some of the most common cooking oils we use today did not gain widespread popularity until the first half of the twentieth century.

Nowadays, many people shy away from dietary fats, especially oils. According to Food Insight, this vital macronutrient is “involved in many parts of digestion and nutrition, from improving the taste of our food to providing us with a major source of energy to helping our bodies absorb vitamins to refereeing communication between cells in our body.” Not all fats are created equally…

So, which cooking oil is best? The short answer: determine which method your dish requires. You may be grilling bell peppers, searing salmon, caramelizing onions, sauteing potatoes, frying foods, or baking banana bread. It is particularly important to consider an oil’s smoke point, the temperature at which an oil starts burning and smoking. Besides degrading the flavor and nutrients, heating an oil past its smoke point releases free radicals.

Here is a helpful guide to the nine most popular cooking oils:

  1. Avocado

Aside from heart-healthy oleic acid (monounsaturated fat) and polyunsaturated fats, avocado oil is rich in lutein, a carotenoid and antioxidant known for promoting eye health and supports healthy skin. The addition of avocado oil increases the bioavailability of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.

What is an easy way to help your body absorb vital nutrients? Incorporate avocado oil in salads or even marinades. With an impressive smoke point of 510-520 degrees Fahrenheit, it is perfectly suitable for high-heat cooking. Even so, the healthiest form is raw and cold-pressed.

How to Cook With It: A high smoke point of about 520 degrees Fahrenheit makes avocado oil an efficient pantry item. Its many uses range from sauteing to roasting and searing.

  1. Canola

Derived from rapeseed, canola oil is made of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Compared to other vegetable oils, this variety contains the least amount of saturated fats. Although usually a major source of omega-6 fats and it is usually refined, canola oil does still offer the unique benefits associated with ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). The human body is unable to produce this heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acid. In an overall healthy and balanced diet, canola oil can still play a role in it.

If you can find it, cold-pressed canola oil is the best choice. It has a light flavor, high smoke point, and smooth texture, which expands your culinary options.

How to Cook With It: With canola oil, the possibilities are endless. Saute, stir-fry, grill, or even bake your favorite meals.

  1. Coconut

There is a lot of hype surrounding coconut oil. Supporters claim that coconut oil can increase good cholesterol, control blood sugar, reduce stress, promote shiny hair and healthy skin, fight candida, improve liver health, reduce asthma symptoms, improve satiety, advance dental health, and encourage weight loss. That being said, more research is needed.

Being high in saturated fats, which can raise cholesterol levels, coconut oil is more stable at raised temperatures. It is commonly found in fried foods, sweets, shampoos, coffee, and smoothies. If incorporating coconut oil in moderation into your diet, you may consider extra-virgin coconut oil. It is best to avoid partially hydrogenated coconut oils, which contains trans fat.

How to Cook With It: Saute and roast ingredients in coconut oil. Add it to baked goods or morning brews (e.g. bulletproof coffee). Since it becomes a solid at room temperature, coconut oil is less popular in vinaigrettes and marinades.

  1. Grapeseed

As the name suggests, grapeseed oil is pressed from the seeds of wine grapes. Its neutral flavor and medium-high smoke point (390-420 degrees Fahrenheit) enhance dressings, stir-fries, as well as baked or sauteed dishes. Vitamin E and antioxidants are a few of the associated benefits, however keep in mind, it is a rich source of Omega 6, which may contribute more to the disproportion of Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio in a typical Western diet.

How to Cook With It: Grapeseed blends well in baked, sauteed, or stir-fried dishes.

  1. Olive

The crown jewel of the Mediterranean Diet is unrefined extra-virgin olive oil. Best for cooking at low-medium heat, this versatile oil contains high levels of monounsaturated fats, which can lower “bad” LDL cholesterol. Additionally, it offers antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

How to Cook With It: Best for dipping and dressing, EVOO (Extra-Virgin Olive Oil) pairs perfectly with bread, vegetables, and balsamic vinegar. It can even replace butter in baked goods.

  1. Peanut Oil

Not surprisingly, peanut oil is known for its signature nutty flavor and high smoke point of 448-475 degrees Fahrenheit. It contains antioxidants (e.g. Vitamin E), which combat free radicals, keep blood cells healthy, and support the immune system. Omega-6 fatty acids, which may be harmful when consumed in excess, are also abundant. The polyunsaturated fats in peanut oil put it at risk of oxidation.

You will find it in a wide variety of deep-fried favorites, ranging from French fries to Yellow Curry and Singapore Noodles. Most of the peanut supply originates in China, India, and Nigeria.

How to Cook With It: Peanut can be used for frying, sauteing, and layering in nuanced flavor.

  1. Sesame

Sesame oil supplies culinary, medicinal, and cosmetic benefits. It contains restorative antioxidants, strong anti-inflammatory properties, and monounsaturated fats. This luscious lipid is also thought to regulate blood sugar levels and reduce osteoarthritis.

Known for its signature flavor profile, sesame oil is cherished across Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines. While the unrefined variety has a stronger aftertaste, refined sesame oil’s neutral flavor is best for deep- or stir-frying. Characterized by a darker color and light flavor, toasted sesame oil is commonly infused into dressings and marinades.

How to Cook With It: With a higher smoke point of 410 degrees Fahrenheit and balanced flavor, light sesame oil is useful for frying or roasting. Cold-pressed sesame oil works well in vinaigrettes, dressings, and marinades. On the other hand, toasted sesame oil is prized for bringing bold flavor to stir-fries and dips.

  1. Sunflower

Did you know that sunflower oil meets 28% of a person’s daily vitamin E requirement? With a high smoke point and mild flavor, it is easy to incorporate in a wide variety of dishes. This popular ingredient is high in omega-6 fatty acids, which are considered to be pro-inflammatory if not balanced with anti-inflammatory omega-3’s. Excessive consumption of omega-6’s may lead to inflammation, weight gain, and heart problems. At high temperatures (above 180 degrees Fahrenheit), sunflower oil can release toxic compounds. It is best used within limits, drizzled on fresh vegetables or mixed in dips. High-oleic is the healthiest variety.

How to Cook With It: A smoke point of 450 degrees Fahrenheit makes sunflower oil ideal for sauteing, stir frying, deep frying, and even baking.

  1. Vegetable

Most oils that fall into this category are a blend of canola, corn, soybean, palm, and sunflower oils. Refined and processed vegetable oils typically lack flavor…and nutrients. Hydrogenated versions, high in unhealthy trans fats, are especially risky.

Fatty acids, including omega-6, are essential to brain function, bone health, metabolic regulation, as well as skin and hair growth. Soybean, corn, cottonseed, sunflower, peanut, sesame, and rice bran oils are high in this nutrient; however, it is important to be mindful of your intake. For example, scientists have hypothesized that too much omega-6 relative to omega-3 can contribute to inflammation, an underlying factor in heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis.

How to Cook With It: Best for frying, roasting, and baking. Although convenient, your consumption of vegetable oil should be regulated. Many brands are heavily processed and refined.

Although each oil offers unique health benefits, it is important to remember that oils and fats should be consumed in moderation. When possible, try to avoid partially hydrogenated oils or trans fats. For recipes without heat, you may wish to explore flaxseed, walnut, and hemp seed oils.

*Nicole is a nutrition enthusiast as well as an avid recipe developer. She is a self described foodie who enjoys creating plant-based recipes with a cinematic twist (utilizing her background in cinema, she combines it with her passion in food and nutrition to create fun recipes).

(References relative to blog post upon request)