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Foods to eat during the winter to prevent sickness

When the temperature and the weather change, it is often the prime time to start feeling the start of a cough or a cold. As the summer days draw in and you start swapping flip flops for thick socks, it might be time to start thinking about what foods you can be eating to boost your immune system. Viruses that carry colds and flu are transmitted more easily through colder, drier air and therefore it is a good idea during this transition period to read up on some foods you can eat to prevent sickness.

Immune boosting foods and lifestyle – the basics

So what things do we need to be thinking about when it comes to foods to prevent illness?

1.    Vitamin C

Vitamin C is often seen as the first defence when it comes to preventing flu and colds. Whilst studies haven’t categorically ruled that vitamin C can 100% prevent you from developing cold or the flu, there is evidence that taking vitamin C supplements can reduce cold or flu severity and the duration of the illness. So why is this? Well, vitamin C is an antioxidant and is present in immune cells. When infection strikes, the vitamin C store can be radically reduced, leaving you with weakened immune system. That is why even if you already have the beginnings of a cold, a vitamin C supplement is a good idea. Taking vitamin C in foods or as a supplement when you already have a cold or flu may also speed up your recovery time.

2.    Vitamin D

Vitamin D, which you can read about in full here, is often attributed to strengthening immunity and a lack of it can weaken your defences. In the UK, the National Health Service advises that everyone should take a vitamin D supplement during the autumn and winter months, as it is one of the few vitamins you cannot consume wholly through your diet. It is thought that with low vitamin D, the body may be more susceptible to infection.

3.    Healthy gut

It has long been cited that the gut is the second brain of the body, and therefore it is essential to keep the gut happy and healthy. One of the best ways to do this is to keep on top of regulating your gut bacteria, and making sure there is enough of the good stuff in there. Good gut bacteria comes in the form of probiotics, which can be found in lots of fermented and cultured foods including kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut and pickled vegetables. If these don’t tickle your fancy, you can try a probiotic supplement. It is also important to eat plenty of fibre and drink plenty of water.

4.    Onion and garlic

Garlic has previously been coined an ‘immune boosting superstar’ and in many countries garlic cloves are a first stop defence to preventing a cold. Garlic contains a compound called allicin, which has antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties and together they are a triple threat in preventing sickness. Onion also contain some key nutrients, which have immune boosting characteristics, including selenium, zinc, sulfur and vitamin C. Whilst there isn’t definitive research that says these will definitely prevent you from getting a cold – they are well worth incorporating into your diet.

5.    Balanced diet

Perhaps this goes without saying, but eating a wide range of fruits and vegetables, whilst getting the right amount of protein, fats and carbohydrates is also a very important way to strengthen your immune system. Make sure you consume fruits and vegetables of all different colours, as they all contain different and important nutrients.

6.    Get enough sleep

The secret elixir of life – sleep! Without it, the human body simply cannot function as it’s supposed to. Therefore if you are looking to bolster your immune system, it’s essential you get sufficient sleep to keep your body on top form.

7.    Stay active

Exercise supports and increases the production of white blood cells – which are essential for supporting your immune system. Not to mention getting out in the daylight helps with a dose of vitamin D – so get on those trainers and get out for a walk or run.

8.    Wash your hands

Colds and flu spread via bacteria that lingers – so washing your hands regularly is another top tip for protecting your immune system.

Best foods to prevent colds and flu


So what are some foods you can eat to prevent colds and flu? And what foods should you be eating in the winter? Aside from the onion and garlic and fermented foods above, here is a list of foods that could help to prevent sickness:

•    Pomegranates

Packed with vitamin C and antioxidants, pomegranates are a great immune boosting food. Try the seeds on top of porridge, with fruit or granola.

•    Ginger

Ginger is antibacterial and a very well known natural cure for nausea. It has been known to be helpful in decreasing inflammation, such as a sore throat. You can take ginger in a hot tea, in lots of different recipes and also as a pure ginger sweet (used commonly for sea sickness).

•    Broccoli 

Broccoli contains vitamin A, C and E, as well as many other antioxidants. The trick is to not to boil it to death so it loses it’s nutrient power – keeping it crunchy will maintain more of the good stuff.

•    Citrus fruits

Citrus fruits are full of vitamin C, so are often one of the first things people turn to when they have developed a cold (and why hot water and lemon is so popular with a cold!) You can find vitamin C in oranges, lemons, limes, clementine’s and grapefruits.

•    Red peppers

The red bell pepper contains twice the amount of vitamin C as citrus fruits – so also worth incorporating into your diet! They are also a rich source of beta carotene (hence the red colour).

•    Spinach

Rich in vitamin C, as well as beta carotene, spinach is best for the immune system when raw or cooked very little. Similar to broccoli in this sense.

•    Almonds

Almonds are high in vitamin E and iron and protein, all needed to keep your body fit and healthy. Can be enjoyed as a simple and easy snack.

•    Turmeric

Turmeric, or curcumin, has been known for its anti-inflammatory properties in Indian cooking for years and now it is fast becoming a ‘superfood’ in the west too. Turmeric is attributed to bolstering the immune system with its antioxidant profile – and is further activated if consumed with black pepper. Enjoy as a hot tea, with hot water, with hot milk or add to curries and rice dishes.

•    Yogurt

Yogurt is best known as a dietary source of probiotics (which are essential for good gut health as mentioned above), but is also high in protein and calcium.

To conclude, there are many foods you can eat to help prevent sickness and support your immune system. Maintaining a colourful and balanced diet, alongside a good fix of vitamin C is a good way to do everything you can to keep your defence mechanisms sharp and healthy. Getting enough sleep, keeping good hygiene and staying active are also essential to your overall winter wellbeing.

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