Top Tips for Supporting Immunity This Winter

Tuesday 19th Oct 2021 |

With the uncertainty of what winter will bring this year, it’s important that we look at how we can support and maintain our health for the whole family.

According to the Institute for Optimum Nutrition (ION), a London-based leading provider of training in nutritional therapy, supporting our immune health in the long term can help to build up our resilience against future infections. There are several dietary and lifestyle changes that may strengthen our body’s natural defences, including managing stress, getting enough sleep and good nutrition.

 The Institute for Optimum Nutrition shares its top five tips to see us through the winter months:

Supporting Immunity This Winter – Eat well

Poor nutrition has been found to increase the risk of infections and can lead to compromised immunity, so limit sugary, processed snacks and highly processed ready meals if you can. Selected nutrients play a fundamental role in how well our immune system works[1]. It is much easier to fit these nutrients into your meals if you’re not filling up with empty calories (i.e. foods that are high in calories but low in nutrients) every few hours. Eating a ‘rainbow diet’ – vegetables and fruits with a variety of natural colours – over the course of the week is a good way to ensure you are obtaining a range of nutrients. This also feeds helpful bacteria in the gut, which play a fundamental part in regulating a healthy immune response and ensuring the body can recognise invaders.

Supporting Immunity This Winter – Top up on super vitamins

A lesser known hero nutrient for a well-functioning immune system is selenium.Selenium is a mineral found in Brazil nuts, seafood, fish, organ meats, meat, poultry and grains. Brazil nuts are particularly high in selenium (containing between 68-91 micrograms per nut). This means that just two Brazil nuts can contain more than the daily recommended intake (60 micrograms for women and 75 micrograms for men).However, if you already have a balanced diet you may not need to take in extra. Too much selenium can cause selenosis, a condition that can lead to loss of hair and nails, so check with a registered nutritional therapist or a GP if you have concerns. Infections significantly deplete the body’s vitamin C stores[2]. Sugar also competes with vitamin C for uptake into cells[3], so instead of an afternoon snack consisting of a sweet treat, opt for citrus fruit or other vitamin C-rich foods such as berries, kiwi, mango or sweet peppers. Yellow, orange, red and green vegetables also contain beta-carotene. This can be converted to vitamin A, which helps support the body as it fights off infection and illness. Vitamin D deficiency is most likely to be a problem over winter months, since we absorb most of what we need from sunlight during summer. It is thought that vitamin D deficiency may be associated with sub-optimal immune function and an increased risk of infection. Food sources include oily fish such as mackerel, sardines and salmon, as well as egg yolks, some mushrooms (check the label) and some fortified foods. The NHS also recommends everyone supplement with 10 micrograms of vitamin D every day throughout winter.  Zinc is also thought to be beneficial for preventing colds[4] and can be found in lentils, beans, chickpeas, hemp, pumpkin, squash, sesame seeds, cashews, almonds, pine nuts, oats and grass-fed red meat.

Supporting Immunity This Winter – Include herbs & spices

Garliccontains compounds that help to support immune function, while curcumin, which is found in turmeric,may also have potential anti-inflammatory benefits[5]. When adding turmeric to soups, stews, stir fries and warmed plant milks, add a sprinkle of black pepper. This is because curcumin needs piperine, which is found in pepper, to be absorbed. Other nutrients to consider are beta-glucans (found in oats, barley, shiitake mushrooms and seaweed), which may help regulate the body’s immune response.

Supporting Immunity This Winter – Reduce Stress

Chronically raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol can result in the immune system becoming resistant to the stress response.Swollen glands, a sore throat and aching limbs can all be signs that the body is trying hard to cope, and a good indicator to take time to rest and relax. Gentle exercise such as meditation, yoga or walking can help you to do this.

Supporting Immunity This Winter – Prioritise Sleep

Studies have shown that sufficient sleep helps the immune system to work well, with chronic sleep deprivation an independent risk factor for impaired immunity. It’s important to prioritise quality sleep by eating meals at least a couple of hours before bedtime. Avoiding technology close to bedtime and winding down with a bath or listening to some music can help to aid sleep.

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