With the days getting darker and chillier you may already be feeling you’re bumping from one cold into another, especially if you’ve got kids onboard. Bolstering the content of your diet can help protect you from a number of bugs, and whilst you might not be snivel-free all winter, you may ward off a few more germs than you otherwise would.
The role of nutrition
Nutrition can play both a nourishment and pharmacological role. Nourishment functions involve growth and maintenance, surveillance and reflect a steady state. These functions rely on adequate reserves to be effective and are sensitive to imbalances in nutrient intakes. A lack of a specific nutrient is expressed as a deficiency disease e.g. iron-deficiency anaemia, rickets (vitamin D deficiency) etc. Pharmacologic functions are compensatory responses, initiated by disequilibrium e.g. too little vitamin E through insufficient intake, increased excretion or increased cellular demand. Pharmacologic functions may require increased intake of certain nutrients, and reserves can be rapidly depleted. When we fight infection certain nutrients are in much higher demand and therefore an increased intake may be necessary.
Nutrition for immunity
Nutrients that support immune function are:
- Zinc (top sources: red meat, liver, oats, oysters, pumpkin seeds, wheatgerm)
- Vitamin C (top sources: kiwis, strawberries, papayas, berries, broccoli, sprouts, peppers, oranges)
- Protein (meat, fish, dairy plus do remember non-meat sources: beans, lentils, pulses, grains such as quinoa)
- Vitamin A (top sources: cheese, eggs, oily fish such as mackerel, milk, fortified low-fat spreads, yoghurt and good old liver)
- Vitamin B6 (top sources: chicken, turkey, cod, eggs, vegetables, peanuts, milk, potatoes, fortified breakfast cereals) and
- Folate (top sources: blackeyed beans, spinach, green leafy veg).
The huge variety of foods presented within this list suggests that eating a wholesome diet rich in fresh foods should see you through. However the temptation is to eat processed foods full of salt and devoid of nutrition as a source of ‘comfort’, and then neck a few berocca. Multi-vitamins should only be taken as an insurance policy and never in replacement of natural food sources of the vitamins. Furthermore, excessive intake of vitamins can be damaging and so beware overloading yourself with everything from the Boots counter. That said, ALL people in the UK should be taking a vitamin D supplement in the winter, according to the NHS, since we cannot get enough from the sunlight, so I do recommend a multivit BUT in support of a good diet, and not instead of.
Nutrients that provide antioxidant protection are vitamin C, carotenoids (carrots, dark green leafy vegetables, yellow and orange fruits), vitamin E (nuts, seeds, olive oil, sweet potatoes, peanut butter), and selenium (fish, meat, bread, eggs, nuts). Interesting fact - just 2 brazil nuts a day will provide 100% of your requirements, with brazils being the richest source of selenium in the diet.
Omega-3s are also anti-inflammatory and are incorporated within immune cells. Increasing your intake of omega-3s is all-round healthy and a very popular topic of mine! Best sources are oily fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies and sardines. Veggie sources include flaxseed, linseed, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, butternuts. If you’re not eating two portions of fish a week, with one oily (max two for women) then now is the time to start.
Top immune-boosting tips:
1. Eat foods your grandmother would recognise: i.e. as much fresh ‘real’ food as possible, and less packaged/processed foods of all kinds
2. Ask yourself: does every meal/snack contain vegetables or fruit? This is the best way to up your vits and mins. 5 a day should be a BASELINE and not a goal. Shoot for 10 a day.
3. Swap a couple of ‘meat meals’ for fish during the week and consider vegetarian sources of protein for high fibre, nutrient-dense, satiating meals.
4. Avoid loading up on beroca/multivits and instead adapt your meals to be more nutrient dense: be kind to your body AND your purse!
5. Drink lots of fluids (hot and cold) but if you’re thick with cold avoid milky drinks which can increase mucous production
6. Get some fresh air every day, even a small burst helps.