Keep your Immune System strong this Winter

Winter is upon us, and that means colds and flus are running rampant around us.  You can 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.  We should therefore make it our goal to get as much nutrition from our diet as we can.  Let’s take a look at what foods to load up on to get the best nutritional effect.

70-80% of our immune system is within the gut, so keeping the gut healthy should be a priority.  Probiotics keep the gut healthy and ensure the immune system functions well.  They boost the body’s immune function, assist the body with a barrier against infections, and offer a defence against the effects caused by inflammation.  Probiotics are available in supplement form, but studies have shown that having about 200ml of yoghurt daily is just as effective in boosting 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 the 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 important point is variety and colour.  To get a wide range of nutrients add oranges, broccoli, red, green and yellow peppers, kiwi, strawberries, tomatoes, carrots, butternut, papaya, dark green leaves, sweet potatoes, aubergines, mushrooms, onions, garlic (to name just a few!) 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 simply place a fruit such as an apple in the microwave for a minute!) or eat the dried fruit (however, remember that 20g of dried fruit – 2-3 pieces – is a 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 – also 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 – also high in fish, cheese and eggs
  • Vitamin E – also 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, but too much of a good thing can weaken your immune system and cause you to get sick more often.  Generally anything over two drinks a day for men and one for women starts having detrimental effects on our health.  Remember that 1 drink is equivalent to 125ml of wine or champagne, 1 tot of spirits or 1 can of beer or cider.

Healthy Lifestyle
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.

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