Feed A Cold?
When it comes to staving off common winter viruses, a snack really could be the best form of defence. Stay healthy all season with our guide to foods that will boost your immune system
We have all heard the old wives’ tale that you feed a cold and starve a fever. But actually it’s not what you eat when you are sick that counts – it’s how you take care of yourself during the cold and flu season in the first place.
The problem with winter is that during the colder months the airborne viruses responsible for ill health have a head start. We tend to spend more time indoors in poorly ventilated rooms, providing germs with the perfect conditions in which to spread.
Our ability to fend off these infections is determined by the efficacy of our immune systems – and this is where what we eat comes in. Unfortunately, the comforting treats we all turn to in winter – foods high in sugar and fat, as well as alcohol – actively work against our health.
The good news is that there are foods that strengthen and boost your immune system, and many of them are inexpensive winter ingredients.
The secret is to eat a balanced diet rich in key nutrients. Here are the six staples that can help keep you fighting fit until spring:
Opt for vitamin-rich seasonal oranges, mandarins and satsumas, as well as berries, grapes, kiwi fruit, lychee, mango and pineapple. They are all good sources of vitamin C, which cannot be stored by your body but is an important nutrient for a healthy immune system. It’s a myth that you need to take large amounts of vitamin C supplements (in fact, high volumes can produce stomach pains and diarrhoea). A daily intake of 60mg is the recommended dose, which you can get by eating five to six servings of fruit and veg a day. Choose yellow and orange-coloured fruit and you will also ensure that you’re getting plenty of flavonoids, or vitamin P, which have antioxidant properties.
Many people believe that garlic is a powerful immune booster, stimulating the production of infection-fighting white cells. Its health-giving properties are thought to be due to the natural compound allicin, which gives garlic its smell. Eat a small amount of raw, crushed garlic, or use it fresh to add flavour to soups, pasta sauces, stews, pies and stir fries.
In addition to being a rich source of fibre and slow-release energy, these complex carbohydrates also contain immune system-bosting selenium, a trace element that increases the activity of natural killer cells. As well as eating whole-grain rye, wheat, buckwheat and barley breads, try brown rice.
SEEDS AND NUTS:
A great source of the antioxidant vitamin E. Foods rich in this vitamin include pine nuts, sunflower seeds, seasonal hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts and chestnuts, as well as parsnips, potatoes, pumpkin and squash, which are also in season now.
Many winter veg staples – including pumpkin, Swiss chard, sweet corn and Brussels sprouts – are high in zinc, a trace element that increases the production of infection-fighting white blood cells. Studies have shown that even when you have a cold, zinc can help lessen the severity and length of the infection. Other good dietary sources include dairy foods and beef.
The omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel are thought to have a host of health benefits, including helping to fight disease. It’s recommended we eat two to four servings of fish a week, at least one of which should be oily. If you don’t eat fish, you can get omega-3 from walnuts, flax seeds, beans, olive oil, or soya products.