Winter food fighters

Kelly Pelham is a New Zealand-registered dietitian and sports nutrition educator. As a fanatical foodie with a passion for health and nutrition, dietetics was the perfect path, she says. Based at Three Rivers Medical, Kelly is committed to helping people accomplish their nutrition, health or sporting goals.

Ready or not winter has come. For some reason this year, we’ve skipped autumn, making it a tad difficult to acclimatise to this colder weather. Sore throats, blocked or runny nose (usually one right after the other), chesty cough, headaches and chills . . . just a few signs that your immune system is down and the common cold is taking residence. You see your doctor but unfortunately there is not a lot medication can do.

Luckily, the food you eat CAN make a difference. A nourishing diet naturally enhances your immune system helping it to stay strong and fighting fit. In particular: protein, iron, zinc, selenium, and vitamin’s A, C and E all have important immune boosting roles. The best thing, these nutrients are all easily obtained by food with no need to stock up on any supplements. So if you too want to fight off the winter blues the natural way, then consider the following winter “food fighters”.

Lean red meat
Not normally a first on the list of ‘must eats’, but there is no denying the richness of protein, iron and zinc lean meat provides. Protein is broken down into amino acids, our body’s “building blocks,” including the immune fighting white blood cells. Although more protein doesn’t supercharge these cells, they certainly won’t function optimally with a poor intake. Both iron and zinc are also vital for white blood cells to function and produce. Interestingly, both deficiency and overload from supplementation can impair immune function so it’s best to get from food sources rather than pills. Aim for 100g of lean red meat three to four times per week.

Eggs
A perfect protein, zinc and iron alternative for those vegetarians or non-red meat fans out there. Not only are they highly nutritious containing over 11 different vitamins and minerals, they are inexpensive and extremely versatile. Omelettes, frittatas, scrambled or poached make great breakfast or lunch choices, while not forgetting the humble boiled egg for a healthy snack. Although there is no limit for the general healthy person, it is recommended for someone with, or at risk of, heart disease to limit eggs to six to eight per week.

Brazil Nuts
This crunchy nut is your selenium go-to which has two important roles for maintaining a healthy immune system. Selenium is a needed coenzyme for an important antioxidant (glutathione peroxidase) that protects immune fighting cells from oxidation. It also supports proper lymphocyte activity, the immune specific white blood cells that fight bacteria, viruses and toxins. However, “less is more” when it comes to Brazil nuts and one a day is all you need. Be careful not to overdo it as selenium toxicity actually impairs immune function.

Carrots
“A carrot a day keeps the doctor away” — just one carrot covers your beta carotene and vitamin A needs. Known as the “anti-infective vitamin”, vitamin A maintains your physical barrier defences from infections by keeping your skin, stomach, intestine and respiratory mucosal surfaces healthy. It is also needed for white blood cells to “specialise” into different immune functioning roles. Great as a snack with natural yoghurt, hummus or peanut butter, lightly steamed or stir-fried with dinner, there is no excuse to be lacking in this vitamin when carrots are on the daily menu.

Kiwifruit
Whether you are a green or gold fan, again just one of these furry, winter fruits is all you need to meet your vitamin C needs. Another important antioxidant to support your immune function, try adding to breakfast cereals, smoothies, salads, or as a snack to top up daily needs. Don’t be fooled by misconceptions that vitamin C supplements prevent colds. Evidence does not support this but it does support that adequate dietary intakes can help you recover faster.

Broccoli
Look out kale — broccoli is back in! If you want your anti-oxidant hit broccoli is the one to choose covering all your bases with vitamin A, C and E, as well as folate, vitamin B6, fibre and a range of phytonutrients. Choose bright green broccoli with no yellowing or open buds and enjoy in as many vegetable dishes, stir frys or lightly steamed on the side.

Pro-biotic yoghurt
Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus help colonise your gut, with research linking to positive immune function benefits for both protection and reducing cold duration and symptoms. Choose natural or Greek yoghurt with live strands and enjoy a good dollop over breakfast cereal, as a snack with added berries, in smoothies or as a base for a scrummy dip.

Ready or not winter has come. For some reason this year, we’ve skipped autumn, making it a tad difficult to acclimatise to this colder weather. Sore throats, blocked or runny nose (usually one right after the other), chesty cough, headaches and chills . . . just a few signs that your immune system is down and the common cold is taking residence. You see your doctor but unfortunately there is not a lot medication can do.

Luckily, the food you eat CAN make a difference. A nourishing diet naturally enhances your immune system helping it to stay strong and fighting fit. In particular: protein, iron, zinc, selenium, and vitamin’s A, C and E all have important immune boosting roles. The best thing, these nutrients are all easily obtained by food with no need to stock up on any supplements. So if you too want to fight off the winter blues the natural way, then consider the following winter “food fighters”.

Lean red meat
Not normally a first on the list of ‘must eats’, but there is no denying the richness of protein, iron and zinc lean meat provides. Protein is broken down into amino acids, our body’s “building blocks,” including the immune fighting white blood cells. Although more protein doesn’t supercharge these cells, they certainly won’t function optimally with a poor intake. Both iron and zinc are also vital for white blood cells to function and produce. Interestingly, both deficiency and overload from supplementation can impair immune function so it’s best to get from food sources rather than pills. Aim for 100g of lean red meat three to four times per week.

Eggs
A perfect protein, zinc and iron alternative for those vegetarians or non-red meat fans out there. Not only are they highly nutritious containing over 11 different vitamins and minerals, they are inexpensive and extremely versatile. Omelettes, frittatas, scrambled or poached make great breakfast or lunch choices, while not forgetting the humble boiled egg for a healthy snack. Although there is no limit for the general healthy person, it is recommended for someone with, or at risk of, heart disease to limit eggs to six to eight per week.

Brazil Nuts
This crunchy nut is your selenium go-to which has two important roles for maintaining a healthy immune system. Selenium is a needed coenzyme for an important antioxidant (glutathione peroxidase) that protects immune fighting cells from oxidation. It also supports proper lymphocyte activity, the immune specific white blood cells that fight bacteria, viruses and toxins. However, “less is more” when it comes to Brazil nuts and one a day is all you need. Be careful not to overdo it as selenium toxicity actually impairs immune function.

Carrots
“A carrot a day keeps the doctor away” — just one carrot covers your beta carotene and vitamin A needs. Known as the “anti-infective vitamin”, vitamin A maintains your physical barrier defences from infections by keeping your skin, stomach, intestine and respiratory mucosal surfaces healthy. It is also needed for white blood cells to “specialise” into different immune functioning roles. Great as a snack with natural yoghurt, hummus or peanut butter, lightly steamed or stir-fried with dinner, there is no excuse to be lacking in this vitamin when carrots are on the daily menu.

Kiwifruit
Whether you are a green or gold fan, again just one of these furry, winter fruits is all you need to meet your vitamin C needs. Another important antioxidant to support your immune function, try adding to breakfast cereals, smoothies, salads, or as a snack to top up daily needs. Don’t be fooled by misconceptions that vitamin C supplements prevent colds. Evidence does not support this but it does support that adequate dietary intakes can help you recover faster.

Broccoli
Look out kale — broccoli is back in! If you want your anti-oxidant hit broccoli is the one to choose covering all your bases with vitamin A, C and E, as well as folate, vitamin B6, fibre and a range of phytonutrients. Choose bright green broccoli with no yellowing or open buds and enjoy in as many vegetable dishes, stir frys or lightly steamed on the side.

Pro-biotic yoghurt
Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus help colonise your gut, with research linking to positive immune function benefits for both protection and reducing cold duration and symptoms. Choose natural or Greek yoghurt with live strands and enjoy a good dollop over breakfast cereal, as a snack with added berries, in smoothies or as a base for a scrummy dip.

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