Winter is shit.
I’m not a wet weather person, I hate being cold and getting up when it’s still dark is just depressing. Winter usually brings with it a wave of cold and flu, particularly if you have school-age children (tick) or work in healthcare (tick again).
So to help you brave the onslaught of annoying germs this winter, this month’s how-to guide is all about how to strengthen your immune system. Please note: I am not saying you can cure disease with food (a la some other “wellness warriors”..) I am saying that for you to effectively fight disease you need to have a fully-functioning immune system and there are certain nutrients that your body needs to be able to do this. Read on to learn what to eat to make sure you’re fighting fit this winter!
FIRST THINGS FIRST:
Maintaining a healthy body weight is integral to your body's ability to fight disease. Being both underweight AND overweight has been shown to decrease immune function so your first step to better health should always be to sit comfortably in a healthy weight range for your height.
Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is important for maintaining healthy connective tissue, mopping up damaged cells and promoting proper wound healing. Research has shown that vitamin C may reduce the severity and duration of cold symptoms. An excellent and well known source of vitamin C is citrus fruit such as lemons, oranges and grapefruit but many vegetables are also excellent sources of vitamin C such as broccoli, kale, bok choy and other greens.
Vitamin A enhances white blood cell function, enhances resistance to infection and carcinogens, and helps maintain skin and mucus membrane defenses to infection. Research has shown that immune responses can't be effectively activated if the body is deficient in Vitamin A. Good sources include sweet potato, carrot, liver, eggs and milk.
Protein-calorie malnutrition, which occurs as a result of prolonged starvation, strict dieting or disease states such as cancer and AIDS, robs the body of its defensive capabilities, depleting white blood cells as well as crucial immune system proteins. Animal proteins aren't a strict necessity, but vegetarians must ensure their protein sources are varied enough to include all the essential amino acids. Protein-rich foods include meat, eggs, lentils, chickpeas, quinoa and chia seeds.
Zinc is essential for forming cells of the immune system, and zinc deficiency affects the ability of T cells and other immune cells to function properly. Several studies in which zinc was administered in such a way that it temporarily "sticks" in the mouth and throat showed a reduction in the symptoms of the common cold. But be careful: while it’s important to have sufficient zinc in your diet (15–25 mg per day), too much zinc can inhibit the function of the immune system. The best sources of zinc are oysters, red meat, beans and pumpkin seeds.
Clinical research studies have shown that iron deficiency results in impaired response to antibodies, and defective immune cell functioning. A lack of iron can lead to iron-deficiency anaemia, which will leave you feeling run down and more susceptible to disease. Legumes, lentils, green leafy vegetables, wholegrains and meat are all wonderful sources of iron. TOP TIP: Vitamin C increases the body's ability to absorb iron so pair those two micronutrients for maximum benefit.
Regular moderate exercise, a varied nutritious diet, sufficient water, adequate sleep and good stress management all contribute to both a fully functioning immune system and overall good health. Before you get hung up on certain nutrients make sure you have these key factors under control.
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