While it’s not possible to completely prevent or avoid colds and viruses there are things we can do to support our immune system this Winter. With 70% of our immune system in our gut it seems logical that the food we eat is one of the most important ways to support our immune system. Natural, wholefoods deliver the enhancing, protective properties we need. It’s also a good time to eat foods high in flavonoids, which support your immune system, think bright, colourful and seasonal foods and herbs.
There are also a few nutrients and lifestyle changes to keep an eye on or to include during the Winter months that specifically support our immune system.
No surprise here – vitamin C is long known for its role in supporting a healthy immune system. It can help shorten the duration and severity of cold symptoms. It needs to be part of your diet everyday and 2 pieces of fruit per day will meet the requirements.
Foods such as kiwi fruit, citrus fruits, berries and pineapple, capsicum, parsley and fresh peas. If you struggle to eat raw fruit and vegetables it may be worth buying some Kakadu plum powder which is a rich source of vitamin C and can be added to smoothies or any drink.
Zinc is a largely forgotten essential mineral important for immune health and has been shown to be effective in reducing the number of colds per year. The easiest source of zinc are from animal protein sources such as red meat, poultry and seafood (especially oysters and shell fish). Pumpkin seeds (pepitas) are an especially good source and can be added to smoothies, salads or bliss balls. Supplementation of zinc is before and during a cold is also a good strategy for reducing the duration of the cold.
I love taking mushrooms daily. The polysaccharides support immune function by enhancing our promoting innate and cell-mediated immune function, protecting us against invading microorganisms. There are specific medicinal mushrooms such as shiitake, reishi and others that can be really supportive. Check out www.superfeast.com if you would like to know more.
Broth is essential to have in stock during the cooler months. You can add it to every soup, curry, pasta sauce or sip it as a tea. Broth contains important minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and improves our bodies immune response. Bone broths are easy to make and are a great staple to have on hand in winter. They make delicious bases for soups, sauces, slow cooked meals and can be easily added without affecting the taste or texture. You can make your own or buy a quality broth paste or powder from a health food store or an IGA supermarket.
Low vitamin D levels are associated with immune dysfunction and low mood. Vitamin D reduces inflammation, as well as increasing the amount of antimicrobial proteins, which destroy invading germs and viruses, and help your immune system fight infections more effectively. 20 mins of sunshine most days during Winter should give your body enough vitamin D or if you live in Victoria I would normally recommend taking a supplement during Winter.
Low vitamin A levels can increase inflammation and it is an important component of immune function, especially mucosal health and defence of the gut. It needs to be sourced from our diets. Animal foods such as meat, dairy and oily fish provide Vitamin A. We can also obtain it from plant foods but the body needs to convert it from carotenoids to Vitamin A which you can find in spinach, carrot, pumpkin, apricots and asparagus.
Move your body
Walk to work, go for a walk in your lunch break, run up some stairs. Gentle exercise on a daily basis keeps circulation healthy and therefore blood and nutrient supply to all areas of the body. Exercise contributes to the circulation of antibodies and increases the production of macrophages, which attack the bacteria that can trigger upper respiratory diseases. It also reduces stress hormones, which can have a negative effect on the immune system
What to avoid
When you’re trying to stay healthy, it might be a good idea to cut back on foods that can lead to inflammation. This includes processed meats, trans and saturated fats, refined carbohydrates (such as white bread, pasta, flour and rice), processed meats and snacks, and sugary foods and drinks.
Here are a couple of recipes to try if you feel like you need a bit of cold symptom relief
Cold and flu season tea
- 3 cm stem of ginger
- ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon
- ¼ lemon
- 1 cup hot water
Grate the ginger and squeeze the juice from ½ lemon and add them to the water with the cinnamon.
- 3 cm stem of ginger
- 1 chilli
- 1 clove of garlic
- Lemon juice to taste
- 2 cups of water
Bring the ginger, chilli and garlic to the boil. Strain add lemon to taste.
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