Boost your immune system by feeding it the things it needs to thrive. That way, you give it the very best chance of fighting off germs and staying healthy this winter.
Your body needs vitamin D to stimulate bug-killing cells. Normally we make it from sunlight, but that can be tricky in winter as we tend to spend less time outside and our skin is covered up, making it harder for our bodies to absorb it. Instead, try a fortified food like milk or breakfast cereals — one serving a day should be all you need, but try to fit in a lunchtime walk, too.
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Without protein, your immune system can’t function effectively. According to nutritionist Kim Pearson, exactly how much you need depends on your body weight – but most women will get all they need by adding a serving of two eggs, 100g cooked chickpeas or 100g meat, fish or poultry to each main meal.
‘The membranes in our nose and throat are our front-line defence against bacteria, and vitamin A keeps them healthy,’ says dietitian Nichola Whitehead. You can get the amount you need daily from one large orange sweet potato (excellent baked), or a large handful of spinach thrown into a salad.
Don’t bother popping ridiculously high doses of the stuff, as there’s no proof that they boost your immune system any more than lower doses. For the best immunity, take one 200mg pill a day. Alternatively, one large roasted red pepper and a 125ml glass of orange juice will give you the same amount.
These are live bacteria which help keep your gut healthy. A daily serving of miso soup, natural yoghurt or fermented foods like sauerkraut is all you need. If you can’t manage that, a probiotic supplement is a good idea for boosting your immune system.
If you’re deficient in iron, your immune system works less efficiently. ‘Premenopause women need 14,8mg a day of iron,’ says Nichola Whitehead. ‘You can get it by eating 60g of liver.’ Not a fan of liver? Try beef, tofu, clams or mussels or dried apricots.
These little beauties should be part of every winter diet, as they contain polysaccharides, which fire your immune system’s killer cells into action. And 100mg (just three button mushrooms) is all you need to get the effect.
Try this recipe: Mushroom chicken a la king
Zinc is essential for wound healing, blood clotting and thyroid function, and it will also alleviate cold symptoms. We need 7mg a day. Dark turkey meat is a great source (100g gives 5mg), or try a 150g steak. Or take in pill form.
A good old cup of tea
We all need a chemical called interferon as it helps us combat viruses. It’s found naturally in our bodies, but the amino acid L-theanine prompts our immune system to make more of the stuff – and guess where you find it? In a good old cup of tea. And it doesn’t have to be special tea: A study showed that everyday tea had the desired effect.