Winter time is sniffles time! As soon as the temperature drops, the coughing and sneezing starts. Most of us have resigned ourselves to getting sick every winter. However, by adding the right foods to your shopping basket, you can fight colds and flu head on and stay healthy throughout the season.
Immune boosters to help you battle colds and flu
Much of the fresh produce available in winter is loaded with antioxidants - powerful substances that help to keep your immune system strong and assist in the fight against colds, flu and other infections.
Nature has cleverly gifted us with colourful citrus fruit during winter that are bursting with infection-fighting vitamin C. With oranges, minneolas, grapefruit and naartjies you really are spoilt for choice! As your body does not produce the vitamin naturally, it is very important to fuel up with vitamin C-rich foods every day to keep your body’s arsenal on high alert. It’s best to get your daily boost from fresh foods, as there is still not enough proof that vitamin C supplements really work.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin C is 90mg a day for men and 75mg a day for women. However, experts believe a daily dose of 200 to 300mg per day is far better. If an average orange contains 60mg of vitamin C, it means you’ll have to eat at least four oranges every day to meet that target. You can make your life a bit easier by also including guavas and kiwis as they are crammed with vitamin C. In fact, one kiwi fruit contains 74mg and one guava an astounding 165mg. Have an orange, kiwi and guava fruit each day, and you’re good to go.
Garlic is probably one of the best cold remedies you can find. This super food not only offers great flavour to your favourite pastas and stews, it also offers tremendous health benefits because of its potent immune boosting properties. In fact, one of garlic’s chemical components, allicin has been proven to help deactivate viruses, bacteria and fungi.
Include a clove or two of garlic in your diet every day. If you are worried about bad breath, keep in mind that it doesn’t stay on your breath if you don’t chew it, or simply add some parsley to freshen up. It’s best to have some garlic fresh every day as cooking does destroy some of its vital antioxidant compounds – add fresh garlic to dips, dressings or have it on bruschetta.
The pumpkin family
Pumpkins and butternuts are brimming with immune boosting betacarotene (a form of vitamin A which is responsible for their bright colours), the antioxidant lycopene and minerals such as magnesium, potassium and iron. They’re also high in fibre and low in kilojoules. Pumpkin and butternut are very versatile, offering full-bodied flavour no matter how it’s prepared – roasted, toasted, pureed or mashed with a main meal or as a comforting soup.
Eating yoghurt regularly will help to enhance and promote healthy immune function. It’s a fantastic source of probiotic cultures - the same digestion-enhancing bacteria that occur naturally in your gastrointestinal tract. When you eat yoghurt the “good bacteria” help to fight off the bad bacteria and thus help to prevent infections. They also optimise the absorption of nutrients. Choose yoghurt with “live and active cultures and bacteria” on the label and opt for natural yoghurt instead of the sweetened variety - add fruit and honey for flavour.
Mood enhancers to deal with grey skies
Winter not only affects your physical health, it can also play havoc with your mental health and turn you into an old grumpy pants. In fact, the endless grey skies, cold nights and rainy weather are enough to make you want to hide under the duvet all winter long.
Enhance your mood by adding oily fish to your diet. Fish like tuna, sardines, salmon and mackerel are omega-3 powerhouses which can help combat winter depression. The omega-3 fatty acids act as immune boosters by increasing the activity of phagocytes, the white blood cells that eat up bacteria. Fish is also an important source of B-vitamins, especially the stress fighters B6 and B12, which help with the production of serotonin, the “happy” brain chemical.
It’s preferable to get your omega-3 from fish rather than from supplements, although they’re a good alternative if fish isn’t available.
The humble banana is a feel-good food that can act as a mood-booster and mild sedative, as it contains the amino acid tryptophan which helps the body produce serotonin, “the feel-good hormone”, and melatonin, “the sleep hormone”.
Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts and walnuts are rich sources of the mineral selenium, which is thought to help prevent depression and be vital for good mental health. Add some nuts to your breakfast cereal or enjoy as a snack during the day.
Comforters to keep you warm and full
The winter cold makes us crave for comfort foods to keep us snug and warm.
There is nothing more soothing than a steaming bowl of oats in the morning. Oatmeal and oat bran are rich in fibre, which help to keep you full for longer and sustain your energy levels. Oats are also rich in immune boosting antioxidants and B vitamins which help reduce stress and boost immunity. Enjoy oats for breakfast or add them to your muffin and bread recipes.
Hot winter soup will warm you down to your toes. Try tomato soup, chunky vegetable soup, or the tried and tested cold remedy - chicken soup. Soup is not only an instant warmer, it's also the perfect winter diet food. If prepared without fatty meats, cream and salt, it can help to keep the winter kilos down, while keeping you satisfied. Flavour your soup with herbs and spices.
Ginger is a lovely warming spice perfect for winter dishes like soups and stews. It literally warms your body by helping to improve circulation while also stimulating the protective functions of the immune system and easing congestion in the respiratory tract. Add ginger to your favourite foods or try a soothing ginger tea.
Warm yourself from the inside with a nice cup of tea. Whether you like black, green or rooibos, it’s sure to lift your mood, while its powerful antioxidant properties will give your immune system a great boost.
- (Birgit Ottermann, Health24, July 2011)
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