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How to eat for optimum immunity this winter

Choosing the right foods can ensure your immune system is fighting fit


Covid-19 is back on the rise, winter is definitely on the way and Chanukah is coming. Friends and family will be sniffling and sneezing around you, and we’re likely to overindulge and pile on a few extra pounds of “insulation”.

Living with the reality of coronavirus, it’s even more important to stay strong and healthy. So here are a few tips to help boost your immunity and keep your health and weight on track over the winter, and beyond.

Eat flu-fighting foods
Prevention is better than cure, so make sure your immune system is working at full capacity.

Pack your diet with fresh fruit and vegetables to give you enough nutrients to stimulate optimum immune function.

Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, as well as berries, nuts and seeds, eggs and whole-grains are especially good for this.

Vitamin A is one of the key vitamins to top up. It’s known to keep mucous membranes inside your nose, mouth and throat healthy, which helps stop viruses entering the body in the first place. Good sources include spinach, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, mango, eggs and dried apricots.

Include natural anti-bacterials in your diet. These include garlic, Manuka honey and ginger. All help ward off bacterial infections and are targeted flu-fighters.

Garlic’s antiviral component, allicin, becomes active when chopped, so it’s great to use in cooking — as is coconut oil, which also has antiviral properties.

Stock up on vitamins
Diet should always come first, but savvy supplementation can also help prepare your body to fight off any infections. It’s worth taking a good multivitamin providing around 100 per cent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of as many vitamins and minerals as possible.

There are also a few key vitamins and minerals you can take individually: zinc, vitamin D and vitamin C, all of which have been found to play a significant role in immunity and disease prevention. A good probiotic is also worthwhile, as 70 per cent of our immune system is in our gut.

Dodge the comfort food trap
When winter comes around, it’s tempting to turn to junk food, which can leave you tired, lethargic and moody. Instead, get your sweet fix from fruit and healthy blended smoothies, which raise your serotonin levels naturally.

Choose the right carbs
Avoid refined “fast-release” carbs like challah and white bagels. They cause a spike, then a sharp fall in blood glucose levels, creating cravings for more sugary foods that make it even more difficult to choose healthy options.

Instead go for slow-release carbs with a low glycaemic index, such as whole-grains, sweet potatoes, beans, pulses and brown rice. These are packed with fibre and essential B-vitamins, which help keep you full, and lower stress hormones.

Whole-grain rolled oats are also a great choice. A hearty bowl of porridge, topped with some fresh berries for your dose of vitamin C and antioxidants, is the perfect healthy, yet comforting start to the day.

Don’t be D-ficient
Low levels of the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D, have been associated with increased fat storage, among many other health problems (including poor immunity) — and the sad reality for us, living in England, is that we are all definitely lacking in some good old sunshine.

Vitamin D deficiency also causes the brain to issue hunger-signalling hormones, tempting you to reach for the rugelach or chocolate digestives. And who ever feels good immediately after indulging in that?

Secondly, calcium-rich diets have been found to aid weight loss, but vitamin D is required to regulate calcium absorption. So I recommend that everyone should take a vitamin D supplement (or a multivitamin containing vitamin D) all year round.

Drink, drink, drink
Often when we think we’re hungry, we’re actually just thirsty, so make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day, as well as one to two glasses BEFORE every meal or snack you have. Water helps your kidneys flush out toxins and chemicals which may be slowing down your metabolism, and better kidney function also means you’re better equipped to help clear a virus from your system sooner.

If you have difficulty drinking enough plain water — around two litres a day — herbal teas, green tea and lemon in hot water are as good. Lemons are also a great source of immunity-boosting vitamin C, so a real win-win.

And lastly…

Get hot to cure colds

Spicing up your meals can help fight illnesses (such as colds and flu), according to research at the University of Cardiff. The spices in a curry could have an antiviral effect, as well as easing symptoms of a common cold such as sore throats and coughing.

If you are getting takeaways, try to stick to healthy options, or make your own dishes, adding lashings of turmeric, black pepper, cumin, chilli and ginger to help you stay sniffle-free.

Healthy and delicious — what more could you want?

Dr Michelle Braude is the founder of The Food Effect, and author of The Food Effect Diet and The Food Effect Diet Vegan Instagram @thefoodeffectdr

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