The best immunity-boosting foods

Want to avoid the dreaded flu this winter? Try these immunity-boosters to strengthen your defences.

Written by Katherine Baqleh

The sniffles, the coughs, the sick days, the burnout – we are all too familiar with the nasty bugs of winter that drain our bodies of the energy we need to perform at our best.

Although winter is hibernation time for many people, catching a few colds can be prevented by choosing healthier snacks and pumping your hearty winter meals with immunity boosters.

Healthy fats, vitamins C, E and A, and the minerals zinc and iron are all important parts of a nourishing, healthy diet that will help you feel your best during the cooler months.

To optimise the function of your immune system and strengthen the infection-fighting capability of your cells, stay adequately hydrated and eat a wide variety of nutrient dense foods daily to boost key nutrient intake.

Here are some nutrients to focus on – and how to get them.

"Vitamin C and antioxidants are found in all fruits and vegetables, so enjoy a big variety of different, brightly coloured types."

1. Zinc and iron

Zinc and iron are found in lean red meat and seafood, fortified breakfast cereals, dairy foods and nuts. Almost your entire daily recommended intake (RDI) is found in a single oyster, while half of your RDI can be found in a palm-sized piece of lean red meat.

2. Vitamin C and antioxidants

Vitamin C and antioxidants are found in all fruits and vegetables, so enjoy as much variety and brightly coloured types as you can every day. For maximum health benefits, try adding fruit or vegetables along with every meal, or having vitamin C rich food such as an orange or kiwi fruit as a snack.

3. B vitamins

Wholegrains (such as wholemeal cereal grains) will contribute essential fibre and B-group vitamins. You can also include legumes, seeds (such as sesame seeds), nuts and pork.

4. Probiotics and prebiotics

The stress of modern life, the convenience of highly processed foods and the regular use of antibiotics have affected gut health. Researchers know that maintaining the right balance of good and bad gut bacteria is pivotal to optimal immune function. The regular inclusion of probiotics and prebiotics in our diets will strengthen gut defence.

Probiotics that are found in fermented vegetables such as kimchi and sauerkraut, cultured yoghurts and oral pharmaceutical supplements will reintroduce good bacteria to the gut.

Prebiotics, which feed the good bacteria in the gut by passing through the digestive tract undigested, are found in fibre-rich foods such as legumes, fibre supplements such as psyllium, onion, beans, asparagus and Jerusalem artichokes.

5. Garlic

Garlic can be known to help fight against respiratory infections and can also help lower levels of blood fats and cholestrol which can help reduce the risk of hypertension. 

6. Water and other fluids

Forgetting to drink water in winter is common, but dehydration is not only taxing on your digestion, it can also make cold and flu symptoms worse. Sip water throughout the day and stay hydrated before thirst hits.

Sit back and relax. For a warming and soothing feast, nourish your body with a bowl of chicken soup (broth made from actual chicken bones) for a dose of carnosine, found in certain foods that may help boost immunity and add some vegetables for more antioxidants.

Written by Katherine Baqleh

Katherine Baqleh is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and runs a private dietetic practice, Health Victory Nutrition Experts.

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