Eat your­self well this win­ter

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

Bath Chronicle - - HEALTH & LIFESTYLE - Dr Jenna Mac­ciochi

If you man­age to get through win­ter with­out catch­ing a sin­gle cold, there’s prob­a­bly a good dose of luck in­volved, be­cause the viruses that bring on those coughs and snif­fles can spread very easily.

So, the num­ber one way to ward off infection? Stop­ping the spread of bugs in the first place, by prac­tis­ing good hand hy­giene, cov­er­ing your mouth if you’re cough­ing and sneez­ing, avoid­ing close con­tact, and try­ing not to spend all day long cooped up in con­fined shared spa­ces (of­ten eas­ier said than done, of course).

That said, there are things we can do to help sup­port our im­mune sys­tems. Diet isn’t the be all and end all (rather, it’s just part of the pic­ture within a healthy life­style), but what we put into our bodies no doubt plays a part.

“There’s a deeply en­twined re­la­tion­ship be­tween nu­tri­tion and the im­mune sys­tem,” says im­mu­nol­o­gist Dr Jenna Mac­ciochi (dr­jen­na­mac­; @dr-jen­na­mac­ciochi), “but it’s a com­plex one.”

Ba­si­cally, in order to get the most out of the nu­tri­tion you con­sume, it’s im­por­tant to look at the whole pic­ture, in­clud­ing get­ting enough sleep and ex­er­cise, not smok­ing or drink­ing too much al­co­hol, and keep­ing stress in check. But what does an im­mune-sup­port­ing diet look like? Here are some top tips...


“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 Dr 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,” she says. This, she ex­plains, al­lows key pro­tec­tors like the gut and lungs to pro­duce bioac­tive com­pounds with broad-rang­ing health ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing boost­ing the num­ber and health of our im­mune cells.


“Even with a healthy diet, our nu­tri­tion is only ever as good as our gut mi­cro­biome,” says Dr 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 mi­cro­biome-feed­ing pre and pro­bi­otic sup­ple­ments in­dus­try is boom­ing. our mi­cro­biome is 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 well-re­searched bac­te­ria strains such as lac­to­bacil­lus and Bi­fi­dobac­terium – in a dose of at least 10 bil­lion bac­te­ria per serv­ing, such as Healthspan Su­per20 Pro (£18.99 for 60),” sug­gests Healthspan nutri­tion­ist, Rob Hob­son (


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 Rob.

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,” adds Rob. “nuts and seeds can be blended into smooth­ies or sprin­kled over roasted win­ter veg or frit­tatas. nut but­ters also make a good break­fast spread on whole­meal bagels, topped with ba­nana.”

Whole­grains and wheats (oats, brown rice and bul­gur wheat) are loaded with se­le­nium, mean­while.

And when it comes to vi­ta­min c, red pep­pers, cit­rus fruit, berries, kale, broc­coli and pota­toes are all strong con­tenders. When berries go out of sea­son, Rob sug­gests us­ing frozen ones (ideal for jazz­ing up por­ridge, blitz­ing in a smoothie or even the odd win­ter crum­ble).

“Dark green, leafy veg like kale are widely avail­able in win­ter and can be added to soups, stews and casseroles,” says Rob. “Pota­toes are also rich in vi­ta­min c, and noth­ing beats mashed potato as the ul­ti­mate win­ter com­fort food.” Shell­fish, eggs, dairy, pulses, tofu, red meat and whole­grains all aid zinc in­take.


Low iron is one of the most com­mon nu­tri­tional de­fi­cien­cies, and with plant-based 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 Rob. Beans also help keep protein lev­els up – key, along­side iron, in sta­ble en­ergy lev­els and over­all healthy func­tion­ing.

con­stantly ex­hausted and strug­gling with low en­ergy? if you think you might be lack­ing in iron, see your GP – some peo­ple do need to top-up with iron sup­ple­ments but it is al­ways best to seek a pro­fes­sional di­ag­no­sis and ad­vice.


“Dried spices of­ten get over­looked but they are a rich source of iron,” adds Rob. Spices con­tain a range of an­tiox­i­dants too, and there are good rea­sons why turmeric is set­ting the gold stan­dard in ‘su­per food’ spices.

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


Nu­tri­tional sup­ple­ments might of­ten seem like lit­tle more than a mar­ket­ing ploy, but they have their place too – and it’s now rec­om­mended that uk adults con­sider tak­ing a daily 10mcg vi­ta­min D sup­ple­ment dur­ing the au­tumn and win­ter months.

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.

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, such as Healthspan Su­per Strength vi­ta­min D3 (£4.99 for 60),” says Rob.

Gen­er­ally speak­ing, the jury is out on whether we ‘need’ other sup­ple­ments. Rob sug­gests a mul­ti­vi­ta­min as a good all-rounder.

There’s a deeply en­twined re­la­tion­ship be­tween nu­tri­tion and the im­mune sys­tem. Dr Jenna Mac­ciochi

Nuts will help with vi­ta­min E

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