Cold weather unfortunately means being more susceptible to winter bugs, and for busy working mums the difference between staying healthy and on top of things or succumbing to a nasty virus often boils down to a strong immune system.
The good news is that by adding some delicious extras to your diet, you could eat yourself stronger, with a boosted immune system, healthier skin, more energy and better mood.
Check out nutritious family eating for winter health and next time you’re out shopping, seek out some of the natural immune boosters we’ve featured below. Affectionately nicknamed ‘superfoods’, these can be found in larger supermarkets and health food stores.
Immune-boosting ‘superherbs’ can be enjoyed regularly with food. One good example is moringa, a plant that’s native to the foothills of the Himalayas. Raw moringa is packed with essential vitamins and minerals, it’s protein rich and an excellent source of amino acids and antioxidants.
Ginseng is another, well known for its energy-restoring and strength-building properties. Sprinkle both on salads or add them to smoothies – see our new Smoothie recipes feature for inspiration.
‘Superfoods’ are plant foods that are particularly high in health-boosting nutrients. Camu camu, a small fruit native to the Amazon rain forest, is a good choice. It’s one of the most concentrated sources of vitamin C and a powerful antioxidant. It can be taken daily with lemon and honey as a reviving brew, and it’s ideal for kids as it’s sugar-free and can be added to drinks.
Baobab is a fantastic source of dietary fibre and encourages the friendly bacteria in your gut (these bacteria play an important role in immunity). Baobab contains pectin (a form of fibre), calcium, vitamin C and iron, making it a powerful food for boosting the immune-system.
Mushrooms have been used as natural immune boosters for centuries. Oyster mushrooms are particularly powerful as they’re packed with ergothianeine, an antioxidant that retains its goodness even after cooking. Mushrooms increase the production and activity of the white blood cells which fight infections. Shiitake, maitake and reishi mushrooms are good choices and can be eaten daily.
3. Probiotics, prebiotics and cultured foods
The digestive tract, your immune system’s frontline defence, relies on live bacteria (or ‘microflora’) to work efficiently. Both pre- and probiotics support immune system health by promoting the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria, and should be included in your daily diet. An excellent source of probiotics is plain, cultured yoghurt (hence the popular probiotic yoghurt drinks in all supermarkets), and good sources of prebiotics include asparagus, banana and chicory. Other good sources of both pre- and probiotics include fermented, cultured foods like kimchi, kombucha, guar gum, sauerkraut and kefir. These might not be common supermarket items but are worth rooting out when you want to experiment with new dishes.
4. Colourful fruits and vegetables
Plants contain thousands of natural compounds called phytochemicals that help protect them from germs, fungi and other threats. These chemicals can also protect you!
Organic and seasonal vegetables and fruits are packed with nutrients. Include an array of colourful veg in your diet, eating them raw when suitable, as well as cooked.
The most powerful of all food antioxidants are found in the berry family – blueberries, blackberries, cranberries and strawberries, for example. They’re especially good for vitamin C, as well.
Fruit and veg contains other valuable phytochemicals, which are great for an immune system boost too: carotenoids in sweet potato and yellow pumpkin; lycopene in tomatoes and guava; allicin in garlic; quercetin in onions. Why not try experimenting by adding a mixture of these goodies to our healthy soup recipes?
5. Green tea
This popular Chinese beverage helps to keep inflammation in check, scavenges for disease-causing free radicals in the body and protects the cells against DNA damage.
The mineral and antioxidant zinc is often overlooked, but is an extremely important immune system booster. It aids healing and keeps infections at bay. It’s found predominately in beef but pumpkin seeds are also a good source, if you don’t eat red meat. Pumpkin seeds baked into muffins or sprinkled on salads and savoury bakes taste delicious, too.
7. Detoxifying agents
Some compounds aid the body in its detoxifying process, lightening the load that the immune system has to deal with. One example is chlorophyll, an antioxidant found in all green vegetables. Serve leafy green side dishes with your main meals, add freshly uncooked peas to salads or stir steamed then blended green beans into soups. Spinach with salmon, for example, is just one of our winter recipes to put a spring in your step.
8. Whey protein
Whey protein that has been isolated from milk is easily absorbed and contains potent antioxidants. Found in health food shops, whey-protein powders can be added to breakfasts and shakes, especially if you wish to increase and maintain your overall resilience when you have a strenuous exercise regime.
Taking care of your family when the sneezes start
If you or any of your family do fall foul of winter bugs, despite your best efforts, try our tips on how to soothe yourselves in the cold and flu season.