January can be the time when infections start to appear, but eating certain foods may help keep your immune system strong. To support the prevention of winter colds and flu, boost your intake of fruit and veg by planning your meals and snacks to include these 12 powerful immune system boosters.
1. Citrus fruits
Most of us know that vitamin C can help ward off colds. Vitamin C is thought to increase the production of white blood cells that make up your immune defence. These are key to fighting infections. You can include grapefruit, oranges, tangerines, lemons, limes and clementines.
Because your body doesn't produce or store vitamin C, you need to consume it daily for continued health. Almost all citrus fruits are high in vitamin C. With such a variety to choose from, it's easy to add a squeeze of this vitamin to any meal.
2. Red peppers
Citrus fruits may be good for vitamin C, but red peppers contain twice as much vitamin C as citrus. They’re also a rich source of beta carotene. Besides boosting your immune system, vitamin C may help maintain healthy skin. Beta carotene helps keep your eyes and skin healthy.
Broccoli is supercharged with vitamins and minerals. Packed with vitamins A, C, and E, as well as many other antioxidants and fibre, broccoli is a great addition to your diet. Lightly steam it to retain its nutrients.
I love garlic! So it's not hard to include it regularly in my meals. It adds great flavour and may also help lower blood pressure and slow down hardening of the arteries. Garlic’s immune-boosting properties seem to come from a heavy concentration of sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin. Add to stir fries, stews, chillis, Bolognese.
Ginger is another ingredient that may help decrease inflammation, which can help reduce a sore throat and other inflammatory illnesses. Ginger may also help decrease nausea . It can be used in sweet as well as savoury dishes, and it packs some heat in the form of gingerol, a relative of capsaicin. Ginger may help decrease chronic pain and may possess cholesterol-lowering properties.
Spinach is on my list due to its vitamin C content and it's also packed with antioxidants and beta carotene, which may increase the infection-fighting ability of our immune system. Similar to broccoli, spinach is healthiest when it’s cooked as little as possible so that it retains its nutrients. However, light cooking enhances its vitamin A and allows other nutrients to be released from oxalic acid. Add a little ground nutmeg to enhance the flavour and further increase antioxidants.
7. Live Greek Yogurt
Look for full fat yogurts that have "live and active cultures" printed on the label, like Greek yogurt. These probiotics may stimulate your immune system to help fight diseases. Only use natural plain yogurts rather than the kinds that are flavoured and loaded with sugar. You can sweeten plain yogurt yourself with healthy fruits instead. I like Fage Total Natural Greek Yogurt (full fat only, please don't buy the zero fat version). Yogurt can also be a great source of vitamin D. Vitamin D helps regulate the immune system and is thought to boost our body’s natural defences against diseases.
Vitamin E is key to a healthy immune system. It’s a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning it requires the presence of fat to be absorbed properly. Nuts, such as almonds, are packed with this vitamin and also contain healthy fats.
This bright yellow spice has been used for years as an anti-inflammatory in treating both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Also, high concentrations of curcumin, which gives turmeric its distinctive colour, can help decrease exercise-induced muscle damage. It can also reduce inflammation in the gut, therefore supporting symptoms of IBS. Using the whole root, rather than supplementing with just curcumin is preferable as there are many other compounds in turmeric that are thought to give turmeric its anti-inflammatory effects.
10. Green tea
Green tea is packed with antioxidant flavonoids. Where green tea really excels is in its levels of epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG, which is a very powerful antioxidant. EGCG has been shown to enhance immune function. The fermentation process black tea goes through destroys a lot of the EGCG. Green tea, on the other hand, is steamed and not fermented, so the EGCG is preserved. Green tea is also a good source of the amino acid L-theanine. L-theanine may aid in the production of germ-fighting compounds in your immune cells, and can also have a calming influence on the brain.
11. Sunflower seeds
Sunflower seeds are full of phosphorous, magnesium, and vitamin B6. They’re also incredibly high in vitamin E. As vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant, it’s important in regulating and maintaining immune system function. Other foods with high amounts of vitamin E include avocados and dark leafy greens.
Shellfish contains high amounts of zinc, which is also beneficial for the immune system. Shellfish to include are crab, clams, lobster, prawns and mussels.