How to stay well when it’s cold out­side

Want to do ev­ery­thing you can to keep colds at bay? Abi Jack­son finds out how to ward off win­ter bugs through your stom­ach

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Health -

WHAT does an im­mune-sup­port­ing diet look like? Here are some top tips...

Bal­ance is key

“A bal­anced im­mune sys­tem re­quires a bal­anced diet, hit­ting all the macronu­tri­ents and mi­cronu­tri­ents to sup­port the meta­bolic and func­tional de­mands of the im­mune sys­tem,” says im­mu­nol­o­gist Dr Jenna Mac­ciochi. This means eat­ing a wide range of foods, in­clud­ing fi­bre, which is vi­tal.

“Ad­e­quate fi­bre and phy­tonu­tri­ent (found in fruit and veg) in­take nour­ishes the mi­cro­biome, keep­ing our bar­ri­ers to in­fec­tion ro­bust,” says Mac­ciochi. This, she ex­plains, al­lows key pro­tec­tors like the gut and lungs pro­duce bioac­tive com­pounds with broad­rang­ing health ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing boost­ing the num­ber and health of our im­mune cells.

Feed your gut

“Even with a healthy diet, our nu­tri­tion is only ever as good as our gut mi­cro­biome,” says Mac­ciochi.

“The bugs in our gut are re­spon­si­ble for the pro­duc­tion and bioac­tiv­ity of many of the nu­tri­ents from the food we eat. A healthy mi­cro­biome is a di­verse one and re­lies on us eat­ing a di­verse diet.”

While noth­ing beats a good diet, the mic rob io me feed­ing pr ea nd pro bi­otic sup­ple­ments in­dus­try is boom­ing. Our mi­cro­biome unique to each of us, so a one-size-fits-all ap­proach doesn’t re­ally work, but some high-qual­ity sup­ple­ments could have some ben­e­fits. “Stick to prepa­ra­tions that con­tain well­re­searched bac­te­ria strains — such as lac­to­bacil­lus and bi­fi­dobac­terium — in a dose of at least 10bn bac­te­ria per serv­ing,” says nutri­tion­ist Rob Hob­son.

Vi­ta­mins and min­er­als

Get­ting the right bal­ance of vi­ta­mins and min­er­als is es­sen­tial for op­ti­mal over­all health and func­tion, but cer­tain nu­tri­ents may play a more di­rect role in help­ing us fight bugs. “Vi­ta­min E, iron, zinc, and se­le­nium are all re­quired for the pro­duc­tion of an­ti­bod­ies that fight in­fec­tions. Vi­ta­min C and zinc have been as­so­ci­ated with the re­duced risk of in­fec­tion and length of colds,” ex­plains Hob­son.

Oils, nuts, nut but­ters and seeds will help with vi­ta­min E. “Ex­tra vir­gin olive oil is the best oil to use on a daily ba­sis and con­trib­utes to vi­ta­min E in­take.”

Whole­grains and wheats are loaded with se­le­nium, mean­while. And when it comes to vi­ta­min C, red pep­pers, cit­rus fruit, berries, kale, broc­coli, and pois tatoes are all strong con­tenders.

When berries go out of sea­son, Hob­son sug­gests us­ing frozen ones. “Dark green, leafy veg like kale are widely avail­able in win­ter and can be added to soups, stews and casseroles.”

Shell­fish, eggs, dairy, pulses, tofu, red meat, and whole­grains all aid zinc in­take.

Watch those iron lev­els

Low iron is one of the most com­mon nu­tri­tional de­fi­cien­cies, and with plant­based di­ets in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar, it’s easy to fall short, as red meat is one of the best-known sources of the stuff.

How­ever, it is pos­si­ble to get enough iron with­out eat­ing red meat — beans, eggs, pulses, lentils, and oats all also pack an iron punch.

“Serve non-meat sources of iron with vi­ta­min C, which helps the body ab­sorb this nu­tri­ent,” sug­gests Hob­son.

Beans also help keep pro­tein lev­els up — key, along­side iron, in sta­ble en­ergy lev­els and over­all healthy func­tion­ing.

Get spicy

“Dried spices of­ten get over- looked but they are a rich source of iron,” says Hob­son. Spices con­tain a range of an­tiox­i­dants, and there are good rea­sons why turmeric is set­ting the gold stan­dard in ‘su­per­foods’.

“As well as be­ing anti-in­flam­ma­tory, turmeric is a good in­hibitor to vi­tal en­try into our cells,” says Mac­ciochi. “Adding this spice reg­u­larly to meals could be use­ful to ward off in­fec­tions.”

Top up with sup­ple­ments

A daily 10mcg vi­ta­min D sup­ple­ment dur­ing the au­tumn and win­ter months is rec­om­mended for adults.

Why? Vi­ta­min D is vi­tal for keep­ing bones, teeth, and mus­cles healthy, and just gen­er­ally help keep us fight­ing fit — but most of our vi­ta­min D is cre­ated by skin ex­po­sure to sun­light, and from Oc­to­ber un­til early March, there sim­ply isn’t enough of the ‘right’ sort of sun­shine to meet our needs (even when the skies are bright).

While foods like salmon, mush­rooms, and eggs are good di­etary sources, diet alone won’t pro­vide all the vi­ta­min D we re­ally need.

“Opt for a sup­ple­ment con­tain­ing vi­ta­min D3, which is the most use­able form of this nu­tri­ent,” says Hob­son.

Gen­er­ally speak­ing, the jury is out on whether we ‘need’ other sup­ple­ments, but there might be times when top­ping up with a high-qual­ity sup­ple­ment is a good idea. Hob­son sug­gests a mul­ti­vi­ta­min as a good all­rounder.

Pic­ture: PA

GOOD START: Get­ting the right bal­ance of vi­ta­mins and min­er­als is es­sen­tial for op­ti­mal over­all health and func­tion, but cer­tain nu­tri­ents may play a more di­rect role in help­ing us fight bugs.

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