It’s that time of year again when your immune system takes the strain as you are exposed to more bugs and have a weakened ability to defend yourself in the chilly winter weather.

So what foods should you eat to build your immune system and ensure that your immune cells are sufficiently nourished to protect you? In this article, I will be exploring the foods which support and construct our cleverly composed immune system to keep you thriving this winter.

The immune supporting staple, vitamin C

Vitamin C has long been associated with its beneficial impact on the immune system, as it contributes to the immune defence on the skin and inside your body. As such, if you are deficient in vitamin C you are likely to have an impaired immune function so you may consider taking vitamin C supplementation in this instance. However, vitamin C is not the panacea of immune health and should only be used to plug a gap, rather than overburden the body with unnecessary amounts vitamin C.

Foods for immunity

Phytonutrients are chemicals which are in plants that protect plants from insect attacks and UV rays from the sun. Phytonutrients are found in coloured fruits and vegetables, as well as legumes, nuts and teas. Although phytonutrients have been shown in research to have a positive impact on human health, they are not considered essential nutrients. Yet their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities mean that eating the rainbow in colours of fruit and vegetables this winter, could protect you against wintry infections.

Some of the key phytonutrients include resveratrol found in grape skin and cocoa, carotenoids found in yellow, orange and red-coloured vegetables, curcumin found in turmeric and ellagic acid – also referred to as a tannin – which is found in walnuts and pomegranates. Lavish yourself with these nutrients this winter to keep a spring in your step as the cold sets in.

Nurture your microbiome 

The microbiome is made up of a community of bacteria (as well as viruses and fungi) that live on your skin and body, and in most cases they are beneficial to their human host – you! Recent research shows that the microbiome in your gut plays a role in a well-functioning immune system, as 70% of immune cells are found in the digestive system. As such, nurturing your gut bacteria will benefit your immune health this winter.

Gut bacteria thrive on fibre so ensure that you are eating plenty of fibrous foods this winter such as whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruit including artichoke, avocado, and pears. Other great sources of fibre include chia seeds, almonds and dark chocolate.

Eat healthy fats

To ensure your immune system stays vigilant, make sure you are consuming lots of healthy fats. It has been shown that omega 3 essential fatty acids help regulate the immune system and control the inflammatory response. Omega 3 fats may also increase the number of immune cells in the body which ensures your body can monitor for pathogens optimally. Foods rich in omega 3 fats include oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, as well as walnuts, hemp seeds and flax seeds.  

Don’t forget the sunshine!

As the winter nights creep in, your opportunity for absorbing the sunshine vitamin D through your skin diminishes. Vitamin D plays an important role in ensuring that your immune system’s defence stays within limits, so it doesn’t cause damage to yourself in its attack. The best sources of vitamin D are in oily fish and there is a small amount in beef, cheese and eggs. If you are worried you are deficient in vitamin D, it is best to get tested with your GP and consider vitamin D supplementation if you are found to be deficient.

Immune constructing soup 

If you do get hit with an infection this winter, a great immune constructing meal, is traditional Jewish chicken soup, known as Jewish penicillin. This soup is rich in a protein called l-carnosine which has been shown in studies to dismantle viruses as they try to spread in your body. The soup also contains a medley of vegetable, herbs and spices such as onions, garlic, thyme and parsley which support your immune system and will promote you back to health.

The immune system isn’t built on diet alone

Eating nourishing and supporting foods which help your immune system work ably will give you an advantage against the bugs in this winter, but there is more that you can do to keep yourself flourishing.

Movement is a great way for your immune cells to circulate your body so maintaining a weekly exercise regime should be protective for you this winter.

Sleep is a restorative time when new immune cells are produced, and faulty cells are destroyed and removed from the body. Try and get to bed a little earlier as the darkness draws in and make sure you are getting between 7 and 10 hours sleep to really feel revived.

Enjoy yourself this winter and do things that make you laugh out loud! Endorphins which are produced during exercise and during laughter, have been shown to strengthen the immune response. So what better way to foster your immune system this winter, than with fun and jollity! And natural highs outweigh the ones with side effects, so drink sensibly and delight in every moment of your day!

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