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Nutrients to Support a Healthy Immune System
By: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM

A typical meal in China today may not look all that different from a typical meal in ancient times. This is for good reason because the average Chinese diet contains a variety of highly nutritious foods which contribute to a healthy immune system. Common mealtime ingredients include bean curd (tofu), green vegetables, and legumes. Ginger and garlic are commonly used seasonings as they are so versatile. Of course rice, being a main staple of the Chinese diet, especially in southern China, is served with just about every meal. To complete the meal, a sprinkling of raw scallion is usually added as a garnish.

When the nutrition content of these foods is analyzed, it’s clear why significant parts of the traditional Chinese diet prevail today. Both ginger and garlic have some unique and beneficial qualities. Ginger contains compounds called gingerols that reduce inflammation in the body. Conditions that may benefit from the effects of gingerols include arthritis, digestive disorders, and cardiovascular issues. Chewing on raw ginger is also a safe, effective way to counter nausea. This is especially helpful for pregnant women who desire a natural remedy.

Garlic contains a compound called allicin which supports the immune system in many different ways. Allicin is what gives garlic its pungent odor. Allicin has outstanding antimicrobial properties, and can help stave off the common cold or reduce recovery time from one. Allicin may also reduce the risk of cancer due to its antioxidant qualities. Research suggests that components of garlic may reduce the incidence of cancer cell formation in the body in much the same way vitamin C does.

The cardiovascular system may benefit as well because allicin reduces the harmful cholesterol that can lead to strokes and heart attacks. It can also reduce the formation of blood clots. Additionally, allicin can help improve hypertension because it can induce a state of vasodilation, or a widening of the arteries. These actions can prevent constriction and encourage a healthy flow of blood throughout the body.

Now, if we look at the rest of the dishes on the table, it becomes obvious that fiber, iron, calcium, and protein are in abundance. Rice, tofu, legumes, green leafy veggies, and scallions all contain these vital nutrients in moderate to high amounts. Fiber is necessary to keep the digestive tract running smoothly to release toxins and waste matter via the colon. Iron is essential in the formation of red blood cells which deliver oxygen to the cells of the body. Calcium provides bones and teeth with their strength. Proteins make up the very substance of our body's cells, tissues and organs, making them an indispensable nutrient.

Eating cooked food promotes healthy digestion and nutrient absorption. According to the philosophy of acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, food that has been heated, even to a small degree, can be assimilated more easily by the stomach and spleen. Cold foods like ice cream and iced drinks are thought to damage the digestive organs. Raw food in very small portions is considered healthy because of the live enzymes they provide. That's why there is usually just a sprinkle of raw scallion to top off a meal.

The next time you're stuck trying to decide on a healthy meal that can enhance your immune system while also tasting great, consider the staple foods consumed by people from the country that created the renowned medical system known today as acupuncture and Oriental medicine.

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About the Author: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.