Sudden temperature changes in the autumn contribute to the spreading of bacteria and colds. A strong immune system is the best protection against winter colds. Although there are no foolproof recipes, certain types of food can help to strengthen the immune system and contribute to a healthy winter.
Don’t wait until winter is upon you to alter your eating habits.
Pineapple is rich in bromelain, a substance containing anti-inflammatory properties (also obtained in the stalk of various fruit). Drink fresh pineapple juice with mint leaves, or include pineapple in salads or with grilled chicken.
Kiwis, pomegranates, chestnuts, oranges and other citrus fruit are rich in Vitamin C; if taken at the onset of a cold may help to reduce the duration of the illness. Use lemon juice as a salad dressing. Include orange or grapefruit slices for breakfast or during lunchtime as a dessert.
Berries are very rich in antioxidants. Berries are considered an excellent anti-inflammatory fruit due to the anthocyanins they contain. Add raspberries, blueberries, strawberries to muesli for breakfast or in a hot sauce to your meat dishes.
Apples are considered one of the most important anti-inflammatory fruits. Apples can be eaten on their own, served as a dessert or baked, added to porridge or yoghurt and sprinkled with cinnamon, a spice considered to be anti-inflammatory.
Cabbage is an excellent nutrient and also has anti-inflammatory properties. Darker leaved cabbage is especially nutritious (dark green leaves or cabbage with deep red leaves can be stewed with olive oil and chestnuts or apples and seasoned with cloves).
Carrots and sweet potatoes are both rich in beta-carotene. Our body converts this organic compound into vitamin A, which is essential for maintaining a strong immune system. This vitamin is especially important in keeping the mucous membranes lining our nose and throat (one of the body’s first lines of defence) healthy and functioning properly. Substitute white potatoes for sweet potatoes in soups, mash or add them to your fish or meat dishes.
Tomatoes: due to the presence of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant, tomatoes help to combat inflammation. When cooked, the lycopene content increases. Drink tomato juice or use tomatoes in stews or in oven-baked dishes.
Garlic: a potent antioxidant also contains antiviral properties, being both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. Garlic is a wonder food and should be consumed every day. The largest quantity of antioxidants is found in raw garlic. Some might find the flavour of raw garlic exceedingly strong, so it can be substituted by capsules of garlic extract.
Tea and other herbal infusions: Black, green or white teas contain a group of antioxidants known as catechins which may have flu-fighting properties. Fennel or aniseed infusions can help relieve a winter cold as they are natural expectorants and help clear chest congestion. Cinnamon can be added to all types of tea.
Ginger: This super food is used in home remedies for curing various health conditions. Ginger stops the formation of inflammatory conditions and breaks down existing inflammation. Add ginger to juices, soups or fish dishes. A ginger infusion with lemon slices, cinnamon and honey is the perfect cold killer. Ginger is very spicy, use only a thin slice (2cm for your tea).
Fish: especially oily fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel) are rich in fatty acid such as omega-3, properties that help reduce harmful inflammation in the body and strengthen the immune system. Fish should be eaten at least three times a week, either grilled, oven-baked, stewed or simply boiled in aromatic herbal water.
Eating the above mentioned food regularly is not sufficient in preventing colds and other winter ailments. Don’t forget to complement your diet with other healthy food which your immune system needs; low fat poultry (turkey or skinless chicken breast), skimmed dairy products such as yoghurt and eggs which are both rich in protein and help the immune system fight germs and bacteria. The risk of inflammation can increase with a diet low in protein.
Zinc is also an essential mineral in helping to fight colds and in reinforcing a weak immune system. Food such as red meat (in moderation), seafood, eggs and pulses such as black eyed peas should be included in the diet.
Nuts and seeds are also a source of healthy fats, fibre and vitamin E, and an abundant quantity of antioxidants. Add them to your yoghurt or to your hot meals (turkey or chicken breast grilled with almonds or walnut sauce are excellent choices).
Sugar and saturated fats should be avoided as they increase the risk of inflammation. Cakes, sugar-rich drinks and other sweets should be kept for special occasions.
Physical activity: regular exercise is important and shouldn’t be forgotten, especially in winter. Exercise helps to increase the number of killer cells in the human body. A simple daily walk of 45 to 60 minutes is an excellent habit in the prevention of illness.
By Marina Augusto Estevão
Marina Augusto Estevão is a dietician at the Hospital Particular do Algarve Group