Winter is upon us and that means colds and flus are out in full force. You can, however, keep the bugs at bay by making sure that your immune system is strong. A poor diet is the number one reason that we may become susceptible to illness in the colder weather. Therefore, it is crucial we gain as much nutrition from our diet as possible. Let’s take a look at what nutritional foods to include in our diet for the winter months.
70-80% of our immune system is within the gut, so keeping it healthy should be a priority. Not only do Probiotics do this, they ensure the immune system functions well. By boosting the body’s immune function, probiotics assist the body with a barrier against infections and offer a defence against the effects caused by inflammation. Available in supplement form, they are equally as effective when found in certain foods like yoghurt, and studies have shown that having about 200ml of yoghurt daily will boost immunity. Choose to incorporate a low fat plain or fruit yoghurt (which has no sugar added) ‘with live cultures’ daily for ideal gut health. Aside from cultured dairy products, fermented vegetables (sauerkraut or pickles, olives) and fermented soybeans (miso, tempeh) are also fantastic foods to support gut bacteria.
Eat a Rainbow of Fruit and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients that are able to protect our cells from harm. The key here is to include variety and colour to ensure you eat a myriad of nutrients. For winter time especially, you should include oranges, broccoli, red, green and yellow peppers, kiwi, strawberries, tomatoes, carrots, butternut, papaya, dark green leaves, sweet potatoes, aubergines, mushrooms, onions, and garlic to your diet.
A great way to incorporate more vegetables into your diet in winter is to make a vegetable soup – it’s the perfect way to warm up and strengthen your immune system. If you struggle eating fruit in winter you can either stew it or a great snack is to place an apple in the microwave for a minute and sprinkle some cinnamon on top. You can aslo add dried fruits to your diet, but keep in mind that 2-3 pieces of dried fruit is the equivalent of one fruit.
The important nutrients for the immune system which are found in the vegetables and fruit are:
- Vitamin A – also found in fish and liver
- Vitamin B6 – high in seeds, nuts and fish
- Vitamin C – a daily high dose supplement of vitamin C does not reduce the risk of getting a cold but may slightly reduce the time and severity of the symptoms. Athletes can reduce their incidence of colds by as much as 50% by taking 200mg or more of vitamin C daily.
- Vitamin D – high in fish, cheese and eggs
- Vitamin E – found in nuts, seeds, avocados and fish. Vitamin E supplementation has been shown to increase immunity in the elderly.
- Zinc – mild Zinc deficiency is associated with lowered immune function among older adults and supplementation of this mineral has been shown to improve immune function in the elderly.
- Zinc is also high in seafood (especially oysters), seeds, nuts and legumes
- Folate – also found in legumes, nuts and eggs
Most people enjoy alcohol at celebrations or when they socialise, however consuing too much alcohol can weaken your immune system. Generally speaking, anything over two drinks a day for men and one for women will have detrimental effects on your health. Remember that one drink is equivalent to 125ml of wine or champagne, one tot of spirits or one can of beer or cider.
The bottom line is that if you want a strong immune system you should follow a healthy lifestyle. Every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when it is supported by healthy living. This means maintaining a healthy weight (obesity is associated with a higher risk of inflammation as well as an increased risk of infection), eating lots of fruit, vegetables and whole grains, not smoking, exercising regularly, drinking alcohol in moderation, getting enough sleep and managing your stress.
- Strengthen your immune system by eating some yoghurt every day.
- Vegetables and fruit will help strengthen your immune system. Eat a variety of colours for best health.
- Drink alcohol in moderation as too much can weaken the immune system.
- A healthy lifestyle equals a healthy immune system.