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03/06/2018 12:16 EST | Updated 03/06/2018 12:20 EST

Immune-Boosting Superfoods: What They Are And How To Use Them

They're "super" easy to enjoy.

When it comes to superfoods, should we believe the hype? Well, if you're into nourishing, nutrient-dense powerhouses, you may want to jump on the superfood bandwagon and start adding a sprinkle or two of the good stuff to your diet. But before you dive in, it's good to know exactly what they are, and how you should use and consume them.

While we're loyal fans of well-known superfoods like blueberries and kale, some of our newer favourites like moringa, chlorella, and ashwagandha took a little more time to discover, but in our opinion were well worth the wait.

Not sure how to navigate the "Supers" yourself? No worries, we've got you covered with a list of our ten favourites, and some easy ways to enjoy them.

Turmeric

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Herbal tea with turmeric.

Popular in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, turmeric root is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties, as well as help incrrease overall cardiovascular health. "Curcumin [a compound found in turmeric] reduces inflammation and oxidation, which are important in heart disease," reports Healthline.

One of our favourite uses for turmeric is as the main component in a healing drink commonly known as Golden Mylk, also derived from Ayurvedic tradition. We love this pre-packaged blend of turmeric, dates, coconut and spices from Botanica, or making our own as a homemade, kid-friendly remedy to soothe coughs and sore throats, and boost immunity.

Ashwagandha

Another favourite among Ayurvedic practitioners, ashwagandha makes our list of top ten superfoods for its multiple health benefits including increasing stamina, calming the mind, rejuvenation, helping with sleep, as well as reducing irritability, and protecting the body from stress.

Studies have shown that it increases the activity of immune cells that help fight infection and keep your body healthy.

"Traditionally, ashwagandha has been prescribed as a nerve tonic and adaptogen — an agent which helps the body adapt to various emotional and physical stressors," notes The Chopra Center. We enjoy adding this harmonious herb to smoothies, coffees, and teas, and are inspired to try out a recipe like this one from The Big Carrot.

Raw cacao

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Ground cocoa.

Unlike conventional chocolate, raw cacao has not been processed, so it remains full of antioxidants (20 times more than blueberries!). This ancient Incan superfood is also high in iron, magnesium, and calcium, and is known to be a great source of serotonin and is a delicious mood elevator!

We love adding raw cacao powder to smoothies, chia puddings, and baked goods, and the cacao nibs are perfect to top desserts. Want an easy chocolate-y fix? One of our fave local Toronto brands, Chocosol, makes a stone-ground line of tasty bars ranging from 65-100 per cent cacao.

Chlorella

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Chlorella powder.

This lean, green, immune-boosting machine is a micro algae containing chlorophyll, protein, iron, magnesium, and amino acids.

Chlorella has significant detoxing properties and supports liver and kidney function, as well as aiding with digestion and clearing skin. However, it's worth noting that there is debate around the safety of its detoxifying elements, as it may not actually remove the body's heavy metals.

It's also an active source of vitamin B12 (yay for vegans!) which helps boost mood and energy.

We are fans of the health benefits of organic chlorella tablets like these ones from Organic Burst, or a blend of other greens like this one from Botanica to add to smoothies, water, or juice.

Adaptogenic mushrooms

Our friends from the forest floor and majestic tree trunks alike are wonderful for increasing energy, supporting brain function, balancing hormones, and boosting the immune system. "They are an integral part of ancient health wisdom in cultures across the world. Many say that mushrooms are the original superfood," Four Sigmatic writes on their website.

The various types of medicinal mushrooms have particular functions, and some of our favourites include chaga (anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic, immune balancing, improves metabolism), reishi (helpful with weight loss and stress relief/relaxation ), and cordyceps (anti-aging, sustains energy levels).

Adaptogenic mushrooms are easy to enjoy in coffees, teas, and hot chocolates thanks to brands like Four Sigmatic, who offer convenient single serving packs for at-home or on-the-go use.

Kombucha

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Homemade Fermented raw kombucha tea.

Gaining significant popularity over the past decade (although it's said to have originated in northeast China during the third century BCE), this fermented mushroom tea contains billions of probiotic microbes that contribute to intestinal and digestive health.

Kombucha is high in B vitamins, good for detoxification and immune health, and supports healthy liver function. We're eager to try all of the pre-bottled local varieties like Tonica and Vams Culture, as well as the kits to make a homemade batch.

While kombucha tastes refreshing on its own, we wouldn't be adverse to enjoying a splash of stomach-friendly sparkles in a summer cocktail!

Maca

This Peruvian root is sun dried and then crushed to create maca powder, which is beneficial as a source of caffeine-free energy, vitamins, nutrients and minerals, and to balance hormones.

Looking for a little boost in the bedroom? "Maca has long been used to promote sexual function of both men and women. It's thought to boost libido and increase endurance. It has also been used to balance the hormones and increase fertility," notes VegKitchen.com, which adds that most of these benefits are anecdotal, and there are some experts who believe that it is "little more than a placebo."

We'd recommend a packaged powder like this one from Organic Burst, which is easy to add to smoothies, coffee and tea.

Moringa

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Moringa powder.

Known as The Tree Of Life for good reason, this superfood is said to contain seven times the vitamin C of oranges as well being rich in other vitamins, minerals, and proteins. It is also thought to relieve allergies and stomach disorders, boost the immune system, and support the liver as an antioxidant.

Moringa is commonly used in Ayurevda for its anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties, and is also known as an anti-depressant. The moringa pods can be enjoyed in a popular South Indian soup called sambar, while the leaves can also be used in teas, or ground into powder.

Oregano oil

A staple in many modern medicine cabinets, oregano oil (the extract from the leaves and flowers of this culinary herb), is widely used to help fight colds and the flu. "It helps to boost immunity while warding off invading bacteria, fungi and viruses," The Chalkboard notes on its website.

We particularly appreciate how portable it is, and tend to take a small bottle with us on our travels. Take care to dilute the drops in water or juice and follow the instructions on the package as this superfood packs a spicy punch!

For convenience and added immunity, we recommend a combo tincture like the Flu Shot from Greenhouse Juice, which is built around oil of oregano and enhanced with other herbal tinctures.

Chia seeds

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Chia seeds.

Yup, it's the same chi-chi-chia from the '80's, but this time around we're more focused on the myriad of nutrition in these teeny superfoods than the late-night infomercials that initially brought them to fame.

Chia seeds are rich in fibre and expand as they absorb liquid, which helps with satiety. They're also a continual source of energy as they are digested slowly. High in protein and fat, and rich in minerals, "chia seeds (have) close to 20 per cent of the daily calcium needs for women under 50," reports Chatelaine.

We love how easy it is to make chia pudding (using a recipe like this one) a family friendly, nutritious treat that makes our mornings a little faster and a lot more delicious!

Remember, if you're interested in trying out these superfoods, do your research first to see if they will suit your needs and be of actual use to you.

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