Worryingly, and perhaps it’s most noticeable during winter – ’tis season for coughs and colds – unhealthy eating patterns and poor dietary choices are weakening our natural immunity levels. The main culprits are processed foods laden with fat, sugar and refined carbohydrates, together with our often inadequate fruit and vegetable intake – a mere twelve per cent of us swallow the recommended five-a-day minimum – and our propensity for cooked, rarely raw, vegetables.
Ravaged (and not so ravaged) immune systems will recover and fight harder for us fuelled by crunchy winter salads, fresh fruit and vegetables, more fish and poultry, less red meat. In short, a nutritionally balanced, varied diet devoid of processed ‘food’. Here, we uncover a range of fresh, natural immune-boosting food to promote wintry wellbeing…
VITAMIN C is top trump among the germ-busters and it’s readily and naturally available in fruits and vegetables: our body can neither make nor store this vitamin so we need it, every day, in our diet. Vitamin C increases the production of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies, including interferon which, by ‘coating’ cell surfaces, helps prevent viruses breaking and entering.
How much on the plate? The NHS advises adults need 40mg/day; the Department of Health says supplementing with up to 1000mg (or 1gram)/day is unlikely to cause any harm. Six servings of fresh fruit and veg provide around 200mg of vitamin C, which is thought by many to provide a reasonable boost, but we can safely aim higher.
Fruit and veg that pack a punch: one large, raw bell pepper – yellow = 341mg of vitamin C, red = 209mg; 100g sun dried tomatoes = 100mg; one serving of kale = 130mg, of broccoli = 90mg, of Brussels sprouts = 50mg; one medium kiwi fruit or orange = 70mg; 100g blackcurrants = 180mg.
Top tips: Bearing in mind that oxygen and light destroy this vital vitamin, buy only the freshest fruit and veg, store it (uncut) in the fridge and eat as soon as possible. Vitamin C is wiped out by heat greater than 70°C (158°F) and, being water soluble, it leeches into any cooking water. It’s much better to steam or stir-fry than to boil vegetables though, ultimately, ripe and raw will always deliver the highest C-factor so aim to tip the balance in favour of that healthy crunch.
BEANS and LEGUMES provide low-fat protein and stacks of soluble fibre (lima and kidney beans contain most). Soluble fibre is thought to bolster our immune system, plus beans are packed with antioxidants and folate (needed for immune cell production).
How much on the plate? The NHS recommends at least 18g of fibre per day but most of us struggle to eat much more than around 14g.
Top tips: Pile beans and lentils into hearty winter soups, casseroles and salads. A portion of bean soup, for example, contains around 6g of fibre. And soups help keep us hydrated while also raising the temperature inside our breathing passages – both are important in loosening secretions and getting rid of pathogens. Give cold days a hot, fibre-filled start with porridge: made with rolled oats a 100g serving has 10g fibre, made with 100g of oatmeal you’ll get 4 – 7g. Sprinkle porridge with two tablespoons of (anti-inflammatory) ground flaxseed and we up the fibre content by a further 4g.
GARLIC is a natural born killer in the fight against both bacterial and viral infections. It’s antiseptic, it stimulates increased white cell production, boosts natural killer-cell activity and makes antibody production more efficient. Garlic’s powerful immune-enhancing properties are thought to be linked to its sulphur-containing compounds together with allicin.
How much on the plate? There is no recommended daily allowance, though a group of German researchers have suggested 1 – 4 cloves per day. Extreme to many, but not to some!
Top tip: Fresh, crushed garlic is most potent but to reap its full benefits let it sit for a few minutes after chopping. Cook with or add garlic to any acid-based solution, such as lemon juice, immediately after chopping it and it loses some of its allicin content and sulphur compounds. Some early research indicates garlic may help prevent or speed recovery from the common cold. Considered a panacea for a multitude of ills and fears for thousands of years, the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all swore by it… Who are we to argue?
Written by Dr. Noel Duncan