We are at that time of year where the dreaded colds and flus are circulating. It seems like everyone in the school or workplace is sick, and often it can feel like we have a head cold that we just can't shake. Here are some of the top nutrients that will help keep your immunity strong and protect you!
Vitamin C is well known for its ability to boost the immune system. When the body is stressed (which can be physical or emotional), it gets depleted of Vitamin C, so it is important to get plenty of it in the diet. It is high in berries, citrus fruits, red vegetables (tomato, red capsicum) and green vegetables such as Brussels sprouts and broccoli. Think stir-fries, soups and salads for meals, snack on berries or vege sticks and add fresh lemon to water.
Zinc strengthens the immune system by increasing the activity of white blood cells (your cells which fight off nasty viral and bacterial microbes) and thymus gland (promotes the development of certain white blood cells). It is needed for many biochemical reactions in the body to happen, and is involved in taste perception. Often, you are not able to taste food when you are sick and this can be due to zinc deficiency. Zinc is found in red meat, shellfish and whole grains.
The sunshine vitamin! It is actually considered a hormone due to the way it behaves in the body. Vitamin D is important for regulation of the immune system, and recent studies have shown that daily or weekly supplementation of Vitamin D was protective against acute respiratory infections, such as colds and flu (Martineau, Jolliffe, Hooper et al., 2017). Vitamin D is mainly synthesized by sunlight which is difficult in winter - and perhaps one of the reasons people tend to get sick in winter months. It is also found in some foods - cod liver oil, oily fish such as salmon, liver, egg yolk and mushrooms. It can be a good idea to check your Vitamin D levels in winter (through your GP) as deficiency is common at that time of year.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and helps fight off infections as it increases immune function. It also protects white blood cells so that they can continue fighting for you. As an added bonus, due to its protective role in the body it reduces inflammation and is often used topically to decrease scar tissue. Vitamin E is found in olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds and green leafy vegetables.
B Group Vitamins
These are absolutely essential for energy production. Without B Vitamins, the biochemical processes that have to occur to produce energy, can't happen. Not only do you then feel tired, but your cells don't have the energy to fight off infections. B Vitamins are found in meats and organ meat, fish, soybeans, shellfish, cabbage, spinach, watercress, nuts, sunflower seeds and yeast spreads.
I'm just giving garlic a special mention. Garlic was traditionally used in herbal medicine to relieve the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections. It contains allicin, which has been widely studied due to its antiviral and antibacterial activity. It is best to eat in its raw form immediately after cutting if possible (just don't do this before going out!). Otherwise, add as much of it into everything you can - depending on how much you like it. I love garlic and add it to pretty much everything.
If you are already sick
Lots of warming foods will help you - soups, stews, broths and hot teas. Dairy increases mucous production, so might be best avoided if you are quite congested until you feel better. Increase the foods I have mentioned above, get lots of rest and try and get some sunshine. Society does not let us rest. But when it comes down to it, resting is actually the only thing that is going to really get you back to 100%.