Nutrition: Key to winter wellness lies in supporting your immune system

Stock up on green vegetables to get your immune system fighting fit for the challenges of winter
Jane McClenaghan

IT'S time to unpack the winter woolies and get cosy. Winter is on its way, and with it comes the usual round of seasonal coughs, colds and sniffles.

The more we can do to build and support our immunity now, the better. Of course, we are all hyper sensitive to reducing our risk of developing Covid, and all the measures we take to reduce our risk of coronavirus are important, but our diet and lifestyle can help support a healthy immune system too, and is just as important as hand washing or social distancing.

Here are three simple steps you could take to support your immune system:

1. Eat more than your fair share of fruit and vegetables

We all know the '5-a-day' message, but many of us struggle to reach this minimum target. It is time to up your game and think creatively about how you can incorporate more of these super-powered plant foods into your diet if you are serious about strengthening your immune system.

Packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, a rainbow of fruit and veg is our first line defence in the nutritional first aid kit when it comes to building a healthy immune system.

Add berries to breakfast, a bowl of home-made soup to lunchtime, or an extra spoonful of veg on your plate at dinner and you will soon reach that 5-a-day target. Some suggest we should be aiming for 7-a-day, so you can't go overboard - just aim to eat more veg than you do fruit. Here are some of my favourites for immune support:

:: Orange coloured fruit and veg like sweet potato, carrots, cantaloupe melon, butternut squash, oranges and apricots all contain the vitamin A precursor, beta-carotene. This is important for the health of our respiratory tract and is used by the body as a powerful antioxidant.

:: Brassica veggies like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, rocket and kale are thought to regulate and stimulate our immune system. Aim to eat one of these cruciferous veggies every day. Try roasted cauliflower with a little olive oil, some herbs (thyme, rosemary or bay are great) and a little sea salt. When you take it out of the oven, add some lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon juice. So tasty.

:: All the berries - blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, elderberries... These little gems give us a real hit of polyphenol antioxidants thanks to their vibrant, jewel-like colours, not to mention that they are jam-packed with vitamin C. Fresh or frozen berries are both perfect.

:: Eating dark green leafy veggies has been shown to improve immune defence. Spinach, leeks, broccoli, rocket, kale. Your granny was right when she told you to "eat your greens". A portion or two a day is all you need.

2. Pack in more herbs

Culinary herbs and spices can add a new dimension to your cooking, not just for their flavour, but also for their powerful health effects.

From the anti-inflammatory effects of ginger and turmeric, to the anti-viral activity of garlic, the more herbs and spices you can add, the better (and tastier).

Some of the best for immune support include:

:: Garlic

:: Ginger

:: Turmeric

:: Rosemary

:: Thyme

:: Chilli

:: Cinnamon

Sounds like the basis of a great curry recipe, doesn't it?

3. Build up with protein

Build and support a healthy immune system with just enough protein to meet your needs. Needed by the body for growth and repair, protein is essential for fighting infection and an essential element to make immune cells and antibodies.

Aim for a palm size portion at each meal, and choose either animal-based protein like:

:: Eggs

:: Meat

:: Fish

:: Dairy products

Or plant-based proteins like:

:: Beans

:: Lentils

:: Nuts

:: Seeds

:: Tofu

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