Winter is here!

Winter has well and truly set in and with it comes the dreaded cold and flu season. Good nutrition is the foundation of a strong immune system. No one food can boost immunity; we need to include a wide variety of foods that contain key nutrients for immune health.

Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin meaning it is not stored in appreciable amounts in the body, making daily consumption necessary. Research indicates that vitamin C is more efficient in reducing the duration and potentially the severity of a cold than it is for cold prevention; nevertheless many immune cells require vitamin C to carry out their tasks.

What to eat: Vitamin C is found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, such as berries, citrus and kiwi fruit, broccoli, capsicum and sprouts.

Zinc is an essential mineral for immune function as it helps the body fight off invading bacteria and viruses. Like vitamin C, zinc is not stored in the body, making regular intake necessary to maintain the integrity of the immune system.

What to eat: Oysters contain the highest amount of zinc per serve of any food, but red meat and poultry, along with fish and other seafood are also good sources. Some vegetarian sources of zinc include beans, pumpkin seeds and nuts.

70% of the immune system is found in the gut so it is not surprising that there is a strong relationship between digestive and immune health. Prebiotics are a type of fibre that reach the large intestine undigested and provide nourishment to the beneficial bacteria that reside there, this is one way of increasing the number of good bacteria in the gut.

What to eat: A variety of foods contain prebiotics, such as garlic, onion, leek, asparagus, chickpeas, lentils, baked beans, nectarines, pomegranate, rye bread, oats and cashews. See my earlier post, ‘Simple tips for adding prebiotics to your family favourites’ for a list of foods high in prebiotic fibre.

The complementary intake of probiotics can encourage the growth of our body’s own endogenous bacteria; in turn they have the ability to influence our immune system. A good body of evidence suggests that the intake of probiotics can reduce the incidence of respiratory infections in both children and adults.

What to eat: Benefits of probiotics are strain specific, what is important is to ensure you are taking a product with a well-researched strain, make sure there is evidence to support its use.

Meg Sadler-Keary
Yakult Dietitian

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