Top nutrition tips to winter-proof your diet

Close up of woman with wooly hat and scarf to represent winter

With the onset of colder weather, our thoughts naturally turn to the approach of winter. Unfortunately, we tend to be more susceptible to nasty bugs at this time of year and through the winter months. However, with a few dietary ‘tweaks’ you can winter-proof your diet to keep your body in good health all season long.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her tips on what’s good to eat and what’s best to ditch during the winter months.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

LOVE LEMONS!

Most people enjoy eating citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits and tangerines, but avoid lemons because of their sharp flavour. However, their high vitamin C content can really help to support the immune system and they’re great at encouraging the liver to detox.

Fresh leons and lemon tea with root ginger on a wooden background

There are so many ways they can be incorporated into the daily diet; squeezed over grilled fish, added to salad dressings, drizzled over a morning pancake or added to a warming drink with ginger and honey. And for those with aches and pains, lemons also help balance the body’s natural alkalinity, so all the joints move a little smoother.

EAT YOUR GREENS

Spinach is obviously a green-leafy vegetable whose virtues are often extoled. However unlike other similar vegetables, spinach is high in oxalic acid which interferes with the absorption of certain minerals: oxalates tend to deplete iron and calcium, both of which are essential through the winter months to support the immune system and the muscles, joints and bones. But the good news is if you cook spinach this breaks down the oxalic acid, resulting in loss of fewer nutrients – so always go for steamed or sautéed spinach, especially during the winter months.

A selection of green leafy vegetables

There are of course also plenty of other green vegetables to choose from such as broccoli, kale cauliflower and sprouts, all of which should be readily eaten during the winter months for their very dense nutrient content.

SWEETEN WITH MOLASSES

When the temperature drops, we naturally tend to crave more sugary and carbohydrate-based foods. Clearly, we need to be mindful of this. However, molasses, which can be found in health foods stores, are a really good way of adding some sweetness to dishes. They actually have quite a strong flavour, so not too much is needed but they’re packed with the mineral iron to help keep energy levels up.

Roast leg of lamb with trimmings

Molasses can be used in sweet or savoury dishes; think pulled pork, lamb shank, game pies or chicken meals, in pancakes, flapjacks, or sticky toffee pudding (for a real treat).

AVOID WHITE SUGAR

Sugar is everywhere – often in foods you wouldn’t expect – and it is important to remember that it contains no nutrients at all. In fact, it may even impair absorption of essential nutrients. During winter-time the body is often under attack from infections, therefore the immune system needs to be in good shape. So it makes sense to take in good calories from health-giving foods rather than empty ones found in cakes, biscuits and pastries. It’s good to get into the habit of reading labels; many processed foods, cereals and those labelled ‘low-fat’ have much more sugar in than we realise.

FLAVOUR WITH GARLIC!

Garlic is a super food! It works naturally to fight invading viruses, bacteria and fungi. Therefore, it makes sense to include it in dishes as much as possible. Plus, of course it’s totally delicious and versatile.

A basket with whole cloves of garlic

Garlic can be added to almost any savoury dish but it works especially well in soups, stews, lamb dishes, potato dauphinoise and stir fries. The more you eat, the better your immune system will cope during the winter months.

CUT DOWN ON DAIRY

Dairy products including milk, cream, cheese and yoghurt are not great for your respiratory system as they tend to encourage the production of mucous and nasal congestion, generally. With the threat of colds ever present during the winter months, it makes sense to reduce dairy intake where possible. There are so many dairy alternatives in the form of nut milks, oat, rice and soya. Why not try out a variety and see what works for you? Plus, you don’t need to miss out on yoghurt as there’s plenty of dairy-free ones readily available in the supermarkets.

A range of milks made from nuts

And if you’re missing some spread on your sandwiches, then why not use some hummus for a much healthier and tastier option?

So with a few easy dietary tweaks you can prepare your body to fight the oncoming bugs and be winter-ready!

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For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts

 

Nutrition for colds and flu: how to boost your immunity at every meal

Close up of woman's hands holding a bowl of warming soup

With the dreaded cold season rapidly approaching, now is the time to take steps to keep them at bay. What’s on your plate at each meal time can have a really positive effect in boosting the immune system and improving your health all winter long. And not forgetting that each meal time is an opportunity for including as many nutrients as possible for all-round great health.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips for making each meal an immune-booster.

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MAKE YOUR MORNING COUNT

In so many ways, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You’ve fasted through the night and the body is now looking for a really nutritious and energy-boosting start to the day. Moreover, eating a nutrient-rich breakfast provides the perfect opportunity to get your immune defences in great shape.

Blueberries and strawberries in a heart shape on a wooden board

Try to include some dark berry fruits into your breakfast: many of the secrets to the health benefits of these little berries actually lie in their beautiful, dark colours. Berry fruits are rich in plant compounds known as anthocyanins (blueberries especially so), which are high in immune-boosting antioxidants, that help protect the body against infections. Blueberries, cherries, strawberries and blackberries are also packed with vitamin C, one of our key defenders.

These fruits are coming out of season now, although they’re still readily available in supermarkets. However, use them frozen in a berry smoothie with banana and avocado and you’ve got yourself one of the best starts to the day.

Bowl of porridge topped with blueberries and raspberries

Clearly you’ll need something more filling as well, so you can also add these fruits as a topper to porridge or other oat-based cereals. Oats are full of beta-glucans which help support the immune system, so what better start to the day during the winter than with a warming bowl of porridge topped with berries to see you through till lunchtime.

For those on the run at breakfast-time, a pot of live natural yoghurt, which is full of immune-boosting friendly bacteria, also makes a great option. Make sure you add some berries for that ‘hit’ of antioxidants and vitamin C!

LUNCHTIME POWER UP

Even though you’ve had a nutritionally-rich breakfast, by lunchtime your energy levels will naturally be flagging; the body needs re-fuelling! It’s really important to include protein at lunch for a number of reasons. Protein is needed for the body to produce immunoglobulins, a key part of immune function that helps to fight invasion of nasty bugs. Moreover, it will help stem the common 3 p.m. energy slump.

Baked sweet potato topped with salmon

So which proteins are best to eat? Oily fish such as salmon or mackerel, which are packed with healthy essential omega-3s, are great as a topper on a jacket sweet potato. Loaded with beta-carotene, sweet potatoes will also provide great support for the immune system.

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, or just fancy a change, then tempeh or tofu with some noodles or wholegrain brown rice also work really well. Tempeh is slightly higher in protein than tofu, plus it’s got a naturally nutty taste so tends to be more flavoursome.

Bean and rice salad stew

The mineral zinc is essential for a healthy immune system and is often lacking in diets that are high in white, refined foods. All types of beans contain good levels of zinc and they also make great lunchtime staples in a wrap, salad or soup. Chickpeas are another good alternative, so adding some hummus and wholemeal pitta bread to your lunchtime menu, or having some falafels, are other useful options.

HEALTHY SUPPERTIME

After a long, hard day, an evening meal can often be a rushed affair which can lead to less nutrients being eaten. However, you don’t need to spend hours in the kitchen or a long time planning nutritious, immune-boosting meals.

Stir fries are always good because they’re quick and easy to prepare and you can use whatever happens to be in the fridge at the time. However, certain herbs such as garlic and ginger are real immune boosters and so can be included in lots of different dishes, especially stir fries, alongside your protein source and other vegetables.

FResh vegetable stir fry in a wok

Alternatively, why not make a warming and filling super soup? Butternut squash (full of beta-carotene which the body converts into Vitamin A as needed), lentils (high in zinc) and coconut (great for the immune system) together provide a real immunity hit. Plus, you can add other ingredients such as fish, chicken or beans for a more filling option. The best thing is that you can make this in advance and it will last a few days so you’ll have a healthy meal ready whenever energy levels are flagging.

A bowl of warming butternut squash soup

Try to also include as many vegetables as possible into your evening meal for their vitamin C content. Red peppers, for example, are high in vitamin C, and are great added to a tray of roasted vegetables, which make a great accompaniment to any protein source. Other great immune-boosting roasting vegetables include sweet potatoes, turnips, onions, tomatoes and courgettes.

So include these immune-boosting foods at every mealtime this winter and keep those colds at bay.

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For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts

 

Autumn wellness: is your body fit for winter?

Happy woman in autumn playing with autumn leaves

As our beautiful UK summer comes to an end, just as night follows day, winter will be upon us before we know it! Sad as it is to feel the cooler days (and nights), it’s also the perfect time to ensure your body is well equipped to prevent any nasty bugs or infections from getting a hold this season.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for winter immunity.

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OVERHAUL YOUR DIET

Whilst it’s often hard to eat the ‘perfect’ diet every day, the more foods you can eat that help boost your immune system on a daily basis, the better. In fact, your diet is the first port of call when it comes to ‘prepping’ your body for winter.

Eating some protein such as fish, chicken, eggs, dairy produce, beans, lentils and wholegrains at every meal is key. The immune system needs these types of foods to produce immunoglobulins – blood proteins that act as disease-fighting antibodies. Plus, many other nutrients such as vitamin C (found in most fruits and vegetables), vitamin E (in wholegrains, nuts, seeds and avocadoes), vitamin A (high in liver, cheese, eggs and sweet potatoes) and zinc (especially rich in pumpkin seeds and lean red meat) are all key immune boosters. So try to keep your diet as varied and colourful as possible to ensure your body gets the spread of nutrients it needs.

Range of foods to show a balanced diet

It is also important to keep sugar to a minimum; try to reduce the amount of refined carbs, alcohol, and fizzy and caffeinated drinks on a daily basis. Sugar in all its forms has an adverse effect on the immune system.

INCREASE YOUR HERBS AND SPICES

There are a wealth of herbs and spices that have strong immune-boosting powers and even anti-viral and antibacterial properties. Plus, they all enhance the flavour of many popular dishes.

For example, garlic is probably one of the best known infection-fighters and works well with so many different foods; meat, fish, and vegetables – the list is endless. Additionally, ginger is equally beneficial to the immune system. Both herbs can be used in easy stir-fries, for example.

A range of fresh herbs in pots to add to cooking

The herb thyme is delicious added to casseroles or pasta dishes and is great made into an infusion with boiling water and gargled if you’re unlucky enough to get struck down. Thyme tea is recommended for all types of infections, including earache and sinusitis. All herbs and spices will have far-reaching health benefits, so add as many as possible to your dishes!

BOOST YOUR MOOD

A healthy mind is equally important for a strong immune system and can reduce your likelihood of getting struck down with a cold or flu. If you’re suffering from low mood, then you’re more likely to suffer from infections. Sharing problems with friends or family can often help. However, it may also be helpful to seek out some complementary therapies such as massage, aromatherapy and acupuncture to help lift a low mood.

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

Equally, self-help strategies can be very powerful. Daily meditation, for example, is very effective for many reasons and may really help alleviate stress. It takes some practice (and obviously a little time, initially), but it is well worth persevering.

However, if low mood persists or there are emotional issues in your life, then it may be helpful to seek the services of a qualified counsellor. Often talking to someone who is properly trained to deal with problems can be very beneficial.

ACTIVITY AND EXERCISE

There are so many positive reasons to get moving! Not only will it support the immune system by boosting infection-fighting white blood cells, it will help relieve stress, release mood-enhancing endorphins and better nourish your body generally by enhancing oxygen to every part of your body.

Close up of two women enjoying a run outdoors together to show benefits of exercise

You may not want to spend hours in the gym, which is fine. However, any form of exercise carried out four or five times a week, for around 30 minutes, is going to be hugely beneficial to the immune system. And don’t forget that a brisk walk every day certainly counts as great exercise. If you haven’t got a dog to walk, maybe ‘borrow’ one from a friend to help with motivation!

SUPPORTIVE SUPPLEMENTATION

If your diet isn’t always as nutrient-dense as you’d like or you’re under a lot of stress, this is going to put a strain on the immune system. It makes sense, therefore, to take a good quality daily multivitamin to help plug any nutrient gaps and to ensure you’re definitely getting the sufficient vitamins and minerals associated with a strong immune system.

Echinacea flower and tea

There are certain herbs, licensed as herbal remedies, which are great to take as a preventative measure. Echinacea is a popular herb, which has been used for many years to help prevent and treat colds and flu. It’s worth starting it now for a few weeks, since it increases white blood cell production. Equally, the herb pelargonium is anti-viral and antibacterial and can be taken at the very first sign of a cold, if you’re unlucky enough to get caught! Both herbs should be a medicine cupboard staple for the winter months.

So with a few simple tweaks to your diet and lifestyle, you can have a bug-free autumn and winter!

FOR MORE GREAT NUTRITIONAL AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition and health advice direct to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister website Herbfacts