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Food that fights off flu (and the winter blues)

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By Jessica Andersson

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We’re more prone to catching colds and flu in winter, but why? Contrary to what you might think, colds and flu aren’t caused by cold temperatures. There are three main things that make us more susceptible to getting viruses:

  1. Spending more time indoors with closed windows, around other people, who may be carrying the virus – making it easier for us to catch!
  2. A weak immune system.
  3. Stress and lack of sleep.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Another issue for many people during winter is seasonal affective disorder (aptly abbreviated to ‘SAD’). The NHS estimated that this type of depression affects 1 in 15 people in the UK between September and April.

SAD has been linked to lack of sunlight. This disrupts the hormones melatonin and serotonin, which have an important role in regulating our appetite, sleep and mood. Studies have shown that there is also a correlation between lack of vitamin D and SAD.

How to strengthen your immune system over winter.

  1. Include plenty of vitamins and minerals in your diet especially antioxidants. These are naturally produced as part of the body’s defence mechanism, however if they accumulate in high numbers they cause damage to body cells which can affect our immune system. Antioxidant nutrients include vitamins A (or beta carotene), C, E and minerals zinc and selenium.
    The best sources are found in blueberries, red, yellow and orange fruit, plums, beetroot, cherries, dark green vegetables, seeds, nuts, green tea and dark chocolate (hooray!).
  2. Include plenty of protein in your diet. The antibodies that help fight disease are made of protein. Having too little can weaken your immune system.
  3. Look after you gut. Your gut is home to millions of bacteria, which play a vital role in immune health. These should be a mix of 80% beneficial and 20% other bacteria and yeasts. Increasing the number of beneficial bacteria can enhance immune health. To do this, include plenty of prebiotic and probiotic foods. These include: leeks, onions, fermented foods, kefir, Jeruselum artichokes, legumes and garlic. Eating lots of fibre is also important for a healthy gut.
  4. Avoid immune suppressants:
    Refined sugars –
    found in cakes, biscuits, sweets and fizzy drinks. These can impair the activity of white blood cells which may compromise the immune system.
    Alcohol – excessive consumption can affect immunity by reducing the absorption of nutrients such as B vitamins, which are required for immune cell production. Alcohol can also increase the growth of pathogenic toxin- producing bacteria in the gut.
  5. More sleep, less stress – prolonged periods of stress and lack of sleep can weaken immunity.
  6. Exercise – regular exercise can boost the immune system.

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