HealthAgenda

Nutrition

Foods that can boost your immunity

9 foods to help you eat healthy this winter.

Charmaine Yabsley
May 2018

It tends to be more to common to catch a cold or flu during the colder months, so it’s important to eat a wide range of foods to give your immune system the best chance to fight off any nasty bugs.

While it’s tempting to reach for comfort food when it’s cold outside and you’re spending more time indoors, try and include some of the suggestions below to boost your immunity and help you to stay cold-free this winter.

1. Eat seasonally

Natasha Murray, an Accredited Practising Dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, recommends eating seasonal fruit and vegetables, as they’re more likely to be full of the nutrients you need.

“These pack a punch nutrient-wise. If you eat seasonally you’re going to give your body a fantastic set-up to get through winter because seasonal fruits such as apples, pears, and citrus, including grapefruit, mandarins and oranges are at their peak of nutrition.”

Winter veg includes broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, mushrooms and spinach.

2. Meat

“Lean poultry, such as chicken, turkey breast with skin removed and lean red meat are proteins that have a good amount of iron and zinc in them, which is important for the immune system,” she says. “We find that when people have low zinc levels, their immune system suffers.”

If you eat red meat, don’t go for the supersized ribs. Keep your serving size in mind – ideally a 90-100g raw/65g cooked serving size, which is about the size of the palm of your hand. For white meat, like chicken and turkey, one serving is a little more – around 100g raw/80g cooked.

3. Oily fish

“Oily fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines have omega-3 fatty acids in them, which are essential for a healthy immune system, as well as Vitamins A, D, B6 and B12,” says Murray. “And sardines have little bones which contain calcium.”

If you’re a fish eater, aim to have it 2–3 times a week. “Fresh, frozen or tinned are good,” says Murray. “If you buy tinned fish then choose those in spring water as this will reduce your sodium [salt] intake.”

4. Nuts

“A fantastic snack or an addition to a meal, nuts contain protein and healthy fats and are a really good source of vitamin E, which is needed for a strong immune system,” says Murray.

Murray says that it’s best to choose raw and unsalted nuts, otherwise you may unknowingly be doubling your sodium intake.

“Roast nuts in the oven and add extra flavour with spices such as cumin, garlic or chilli.”

Be careful not to overdo serving sizes, though. “You should aim to eat around 30g of nuts a day. A serve is a small handful, which is about 30 almonds, or 4 chestnuts, or 15 cashews.”

5. Rolled oats

Oats contain beta-glucan, a type of soluble fibre, which has immune-boosting properties and can help your body to fight infection. 

Add to a morning smoothie, or soak in water or apple juice overnight and heat in the morning. “Add some Greek yoghurt, berries for sweetness and cinnamon. Or make an oat crumble for a winter dessert with stewed fruit,” she says.

6. Greek yoghurt

“Full of B vitamins and folate and calcium, there’s also a lot of good bacteria in yoghurt,” says Murray.

These nutrients, found in good quality yoghurts, may boost immune function, digestion and the absorption of nutrients, and help fight against unfriendly bacteria, according to Harvard Medical School.

Although plain yoghurt is also good for you, Greek yoghurt is likely to have less sugar and more protein.

Add to breakfasts or have as a dessert, with a teaspoon of honey and winter berries added for extra sweetness. “Or use as a replacement for sour cream, which has a lot of saturated fat,” says Murray.

7. Garlic                                          

“Garlic is a little powerhouse,” says Murray. “It contains the antioxidant allicin, which has antibacterial properties and may help immunity and reduce your risk of catching colds.”

“Garlic has a beautiful flavour and is quite warming, so you can add it to most [savoury] meals,” says Murray. “Add a couple of cloves as a base to sauces, dishes, or roast a whole garlic and squeeze it out on sourdough bread.”

To ensure you get the most out of this health-boosting ingredient when cooking, leave it for 15 minutes at room temperature after crushing it before you use it.

8. Green tea

“We often forget that what we drink can help boost our immune system,” says Murray. “Green tea contains a whole lot of polyphenols – antioxidants – which [can help] protect the body’s cells against damage.”

Remember that green tea still contains caffeine, although it’s much lower than coffee, so aim for no more than 3 cups a day. Decaf green tea is thought to have similar potential health benefits.

9. Chicken soup

It may be good for the soul, but it might also help if you have a cold. A study published in the journal Chest reported that chicken soup may have anti-inflammatory properties that can help to stave off upper-respiratory tract infections.

“[Almost] any type of homemade soup is a fantastic way to get a lot of vegetables into your diet, and keep your hydration levels up, since the fluid adds to your water intake.”

Murray recommends adding a rainbow of vegetables into your soup to keep your immune system strong. “We get different nutrients and vitamins from each colour,” she says.

“Try Thai pumpkin soup, minestrone with pasta and lentils, beans or pulses, chicken and corn soup, or potato and leek,” she says. “Use winter veg you may not eat otherwise, such as turnips, swede and parsnips.”

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