Fighting food

Stay healthy this winter by keeping your immune system fighting fit against colds, flu and seasonal lurgies, says health writer Janette Marshall.

Fighting food

Spice up your food this winter, and eat plenty of fruit and vegetables to stay fighting fit. Winter’s chills call for plenty of vitamin C to maintain a healthy immune system and ward off the viral infections that cause coughs, colds and flu. To meet the five-a-day target for fruit and veg, start the day with a glass of fruit juice, incorporate salad and fruit at lunch, and for snacks, and have a vegetable-based stir-fry in the evening.

British

cabbage

,

kale

and

broccoli

are great but, for a change, try more exotic brassicas such as

pak choi

. The cabbage family in general is rich in beneficial phyto (plant) chemicals such as anti-carcinogenic glucosinolates and antioxidants, which are thought to help improve your overall health and help keep colds and illnesses at bay.

Adding spices, such as chilli and ginger, to winter stir-fries and curries will also help boost your intake of antioxidants. New analysis of spices from the United States Department of Agriculture suggests that one teaspoon of dried ginger or paprika comprises the same amount of antioxidants as a portion of tomatoes or green pepper. What’s more, one teaspoon of curry powder containing chilli is as powerful an antioxidant ‘fix’ as a portion of broccoli, spinach, red pepper and carrot.

Minerals, such as selenium and zinc, are also needed for a healthy immune system. These are found in wholegrain cereals; other good sources of zinc are lean red meat, seafood and offal. Vegetarians can enjoy

miso

as a rich source of zinc.

People who eat breakfast reportedly have fewer colds than those who skip it, and are more likely to be slimmer. So, start the day with a bowl of

porridge

and this will keep your energy levels up. Other foods that will make you feel fuller for longer include starchy carbs such as

rice

,

pasta

,

potatoes

and bread – choose wholegrain breads for their fibre and B vitamins.

If you can take your daily exercise outdoors, the action of sunlight on the skin will top up your vitamin D levels. Studies have shown that people with the lowest levels of vitamin D in their blood tend to suffer more colds or flu. Half an hour’s moderately intense physical activity each day is what the doctor orders.

Stress and a lack of sleep are other factors thought to compromise your immune system. According to Professor Nick Phin, pandemic flu expert with the Health Protection Agency, numerous studies have shown that stressed individuals have weaker immune responses because stress – and not getting enough sleep – triggers inflammation in the body, which reduces its ability to fight infection. Foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, such as

oily fish

and

walnuts

, seem to have a dampening effect on the inflammatory response.

Meditation and massage are fantastic stress-releasers because they trigger the production of endorphins, which improve mood, and human growth hormone, which boosts immunity. These hormones also reduce the production of stress hormones, which can weaken the immune system. And remember, laughing is also beneficial – it increases endorphin production, too.

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