Are you constantly fighting off winter colds and feeling run down? Then check out nutritionist Amanda Hamilton’s recommendations for boosting your immune system.
With 131 million work days lost each year due to illness and most adults taken down by at least four colds each year, arming yourself against winter bugs can help you get through the holiday season. Nutritionist Amanda Hamilton offers her advice.
1. B vitamins
If you’re constantly picking up coughs and colds, it might mean you need to boost your intake of B vitamins. Found in green leafy vegetables, avocados, beans, pulses, eggs, chicken, nuts and seeds, B vitamins produce a white blood cell called neutrophils, helping to boost your immune system. And, let’s face it, everyone loves an avocado these days.
2. Antioxidant-rich foods
Feeling run down? You might be low in antioxidants. Antioxidants have been linked with protecting one of our major glands, the thymus, which helps to produce immune cells in the body. The best way to get a dose of antioxidants is to eat a rainbow of fresh fruits and vegetables. Think red berries and grapes, dark green vegetables and orange sweet potatoes and squash.
Did you know we have 100 trillion bacteria in our guts? Eating the right kind of bacteria is essential for keeping our guts healthy and our immune systems happy.
Probiotic supplements, fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi (fermented vegetables) and kefir, a natural probiotic yogurt-like milk drink, can all help.
If you’re choosing a probiotic supplement, opt for one that contains more strains of bacteria than just two or three. A daily supplement should contain at least two billion bacteria per serving!
If you’ve been burning the candles at both ends and not getting your recommended seven hours of sleep a night, you might find you’re more susceptible to colds. While we’re asleep, our body is in ‘rest and repair’ mode, which is vital for good immunity.
Making sure you’re getting the recommended daily amount of magnesium is key, as it helps aid sleep. You can increase your magnesium levels by eating magnesium-rich foods such as dark leafy greens, brown rice, wholegrain bread, yoghurt, bananas and dark chocolate, or by having a magnesium salt bath (yes, really!). Add a cup of magnesium salt (available from most chemists and health food shops) to a warm bath and relax in the bath for a minimum of 20 minutes just before going to bed. If you don’t have a bath, you can get the same result with a foot bath.
However, if you have low blood pressure, avoid baths with magnesium as this can lower your blood pressure further.
Who would have thought that eating a dozen oysters could help ward off the common cold? If you’re always finding yourself catching a cold or you seem to recover more slowly than others, increasing your intake of zinc could be beneficial as it’s been found to inhibit the growth of viruses such as colds.
While oysters are one of the richest sources of zinc, it’s not every day that you’ll take your oyster fill, so you can also get a good dose from spinach, mushrooms (particularly shiitake), pumpkin/sunflower/sesame seeds, quinoa, lentils, chickpeas and eggs.
A word of caution: zinc supplements can cause an imbalance of copper levels in the body, so always choose a zinc supplement balanced with copper and limit your intake to 15mg a day for no more than three months.
If you’re always reaching for the cold and flu medicine, you might be in need of a selenium supplement. Selenium is a mineral found in the soil that can help to maintain normal immune system function, and while it is most commonly found in fish, meat and nuts (particularly brazil nuts and sunflower seeds), a selenium supplement may be the best way to get what you need. Always check the label.
7. Vitamin C
Most commonly associated with fighting off bugs, vitamin C is the hero when it comes to boosting immunity. Plenty of green vegetables such as kale, spinach and broccoli are all good sources of vitamin C and can help reduce the length and severity of a cold.
Avoid drinking litres of sugary orange juice to get your fix of vitamin C as sugar can suppress your immune system. Instead, opt for warm water with squeezed lemon and ginger. The lemon provides a potent vitamin C boost and the ginger has natural antibacterial properties.
Find out more about how to get the right vitamins for you.