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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The importance of Vitamin D this autumn: are you getting enough?

A fried egg make to look like yellow sunshine behind a white cloud

It’s known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because vitamin D is primarily produced on the skin in sunlight. As it’s no secret that we’re coming to the end of summer, it’s more important than ever that we get plenty of vitamin D. It’s essential for healthy bones and teeth, supports the immune system and is also important in regulating our mood.

So how can we chase the sunshine this autumn? Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her ideas on getting enough vitamin D through the coming months.

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THE FACTS

The most active form of vitamin D (vitamin D3) is made on the skin in the presence of sunshine. What actually happens is that when ultra violet rays reach the skin, a form of vitamin D is converted into the active form known as cholecalciferol. This is then transported to the liver and kidneys which produce an even more potent form.

This is great if there’s sufficient sunshine! However, it’s a well-established fact that there’s widespread deficiency of vitamin D within populations living in the Northern Hemisphere (for example, the UK), as we get little sunlight during the autumn and winter months. The body can store vitamin D in the liver, but it’s often insufficient to last through the winter months, and that’s assuming there’s was enough to be stored in the first place.

Woman lunging on a beach with the outline of her bones shown as if x-rayed to represent strong bones

Vitamin D is available in a few animal-based foods as D3 but in plant foods the form Vitamin D2 is harder for the body to convert into the active form. However, it’s still a very viable nutrient, and shouldn’t be overlooked.

THE BENEFITS

Vitamin D is super-powerful and has far-reaching health benefits. What we know for certain though is that vitamin D is needed for healthy bones and teeth. This is mainly because it’s essential to metabolise the minerals calcium and phosphorus. It also plays a key role in keeping the immune system on track and is thought to help ease low mood. More research is emerging all the time on this topic.

THE FOODS

Vitamin D is found in a number of foods and even though it still has to be converted to its most active form, food sources make a valuable contribution to levels needed by the body. Salmon, for example, is one of the best sources of vitamin D3. However, wild salmon contains more than farmed salmon mainly because of the food the fish have consumed. Other oily fish such as mackerel and sardines are great (tinned sardines are particularly good if you eat the small bones), plus tuna, egg yolks, oysters and shrimp.

A range of foods containing vitamin D

However, if you’re vegetarian, the only plant source of vitamin D is mushrooms. They work just like humans in that they produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Other than that, there are a range of fortified foods to choose from such as cow’s milk, soya milk, orange juice (not all brands will be fortified, so check the label), and some cereals which will also contain vitamin D.

THE SUPPLEMENTS

Public Health England issued advice a couple of years ago that everyone should take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during the winter months, such was the widespread problem of deficiency. However, this should very much be considered a minimum level as the body generally needs much more. Supplements contain either vitamin D3 or vitamin D2 and they will both help prevent deficiency symptoms, which can include muscle and joint aches and pains, depression, poor immunity and more falls in the elderly.

 

The best advice is to start taking a supplement now but also try to eat more foods or fortified foods containing vitamin D.

So whilst the summer has almost finished for another year, top up those Vitamin D levels through diet and supplementation to make sure you are getting enough of this essential vitamin.

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Boost your protein at every meal with these great food ideas

Every cell in the body needs protein; it’s required for growth and repair, enzyme and hormone production and plays a key role in creating antibodies which fight off infection as part of the immune system.  Generally, around 15-20% of our calorie intake should come from protein.  So what should we be eating?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her tips for including protein at every meal time!

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POWER BREAKFAST

In many ways, breakfast is actually the most important meal of the day.  It is a key opportunity for the body to be refuelled with essential nutrients.  Eating breakfast is vital because blood sugar levels are low after a night’s sleep and the body needs feeding in order to provide sustained energy for the day.

Top of the list for best breakfast choice would be eggs; they’re a complete protein source, meaning they contain all the essential amino acids the body needs and which it cannot make. The main reason we need protein in our diet is to supply the eight essential amino acids and eggs provide these.

If eggs are not for you, how about a designer muesli instead?  If you mix up some oats, barley flakes, rye flakes, wheat germ, seeds and add some chopped apricots and raisins, you’ve got a tasty and nutritious breakfast.  All these grains all contain protein.  This muesli can be mixed up and stored for a while; a portion can also be soaked overnight in milk or apple juice, making it easier to digest in the morning.  Even better, all the grains are slow energy-releasing, which means they’ll keep you going through the day plus they’re also packed with energising B vitamins.

VITALITY LUNCH

Lunch often has to be prepared quickly or transported to the office or place of work.  But this shouldn’t stop you from including a choice of protein and colourful foods.

Chicken noodle salad is a good example of something that can be made in advance with cooked chicken breast or left-over chicken, rice noodles, baby corn, sliced carrot, soy sauce, garlic and shredded cabbage or spinach leaves.  However, if you’re vegetarian you can swap the chicken for tofu or prawns and you’ve got a really quick, nourishing salad.  The protein (chicken, prawns or tofu) can either be eaten hot or cold.

Another high protein and energising carbohydrate lunch can be found in a spicy bean salad. Beans are low on the glycaemic index but also contain good amounts of protein.  Tinned mixed beans can be combined with tomato, cooked French beans, coriander and Tabasco sauce along with your favourite dressing.  Easy, quick, delicious and sustaining!

DINNER DELIGHTS

Protein is found in so many different foods, which means there’s a wealth of dishes on offer for dinner.  Animal protein includes red meat, chicken, turkey, fish, dairy products, and eggs.  Animal proteins generally contain all the amino acids whereas plant-based proteins don’t.  However, by carefully combining grains with beans, for example, you can get all the essential acids you need.

Quinoa, which has a very similar texture to couscous, has a really good amino acid profile, making it a great protein source whether you’re vegetarian or not. Quinoa works really well as an easy dinner dish with roasted vegetables.

If you’ve had eggs for breakfast, chicken for lunch, then how about some protein-packed fish for dinner?  Oily fish such as trout is absolutely delicious and is also packed with omega-3 fats which are great for the brain, skin and heart.  Any oily fish can be really simply cooked in a baking dish, drizzled with lemon and olive oil and served with some lightly toasted pine nuts and steamed vegetables.

Another excellent source of protein are lentils.  They’re also packed with fibre to keep the bowels super-healthy.  Lentils work really well with spinach; whilst you’re cooking some brown lentils, chop some coriander, cumin and garlic.  These can be briefly stir-fried before adding to the pan with some spinach.  All the flavours combine really well together and you’ll be getting some energising iron from the spinach as well as some heart-loving garlic.

With so many protein options available, your body can be properly fuelled and nourished all day long.

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How to fight hay fever the natural way

If the onset of summer means itchy eyes, tickly throat and lots of sneezing, then there’s plenty of natural help at hand for hay fever.  Unfortunately, summer can be a miserable time for millions of hay fever sufferers but there are lots of ways that nature can actually help.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, looks at some natural remedies to help combat hay fever so you can better enjoy the lovely summer days.

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IMMUNE DEFENCE

Any allergic reaction involves a response from the body’s immune system. An allergy triggers the release of histamine, which, in, turn causes the tell-tale itchy eyes, sneezing, coughing and wheezing.

Supporting the immune system needs to be the first line of defence.  Vitamin A is key in helping to reduce inflammation in the mucous membranes which get irritated and cause these symptoms.  Plus it’s also a key immune-boosting vitamin. Eating plenty of eggs, liver and fish, all high in vitamin A, is a good plan.

The body also converts something called beta carotene into vitamin A as it needs it; colourful fruits and vegetables, particularly carrots, peppers, mangoes and sweet potatoes all contain beta carotene and should certainly feature high on the menu to really help boost the immune system.

With the summer months now in full swing, we tend to naturally eat more fruits, vegetables and salads in any case so you’ll generally be eating more vitamin C, another key immune-booster. Berry fruits, in particular, are all high in vitamin C.

If you’re time-poor having a selection of fruits and vegetables in the freeze is a great way to make sure you have access to those immune-boosting nutrients at any time.

SPICE UP YOUR LIFE

The spice, turmeric, is currently hot, in more ways than one!  There’s been extensive research published on the many health benefits of turmeric (also known as curcumin), and one of its key uses is reducing any inflammation in the body.

Turmeric appears to dampen down a specific enzyme in the body which is triggered by pollen, therefore, it can certainly help manage hay fever symptoms.  It’s easy to include turmeric in lots of dishes, not just spicy curries.  As an idea, spicy scrambled egg with spinach makes a wonderful breakfast.

Additionally, turmeric is widely available in supplement form if it’s just a little bit too hot for your palate.

INCLUDE QUERCETIN

What’s that you may ask?  Quercetin is a bioflavonoid or plant compound that helps to support immunity.  More specifically it’s been found to help manage the body’s release of histamine, therefore it can help prevent some of the unpleasant symptoms of allergies.

Foods such as onions, citrus fruits, apples and green tea all contain quercetin.  Interestingly, bromelain, which is a protein-digesting enzyme found in pineapples, helps the absorption of it, so eating a fruit salad containing both apples and pineapple is certainly going to help.

MAKE A CUPPA

There are two herbs of particular note which can help alleviate symptoms of hay fever. Camomile makes a wonderfully calming tea and is a natural anti-inflammatory and antihistamine; Elderflower tea can help chesty conditions and so may also help to ease hay fever.

EAT MORE FISH

Oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, salmon and tuna are all good sources of the omega-3 fats which help to manage any inflammation in the body.  It, therefore, naturally follows that these healthy omega-3 fats can help to dampen down some of the unpleasant hay fever symptoms.

With the barbecue season now in full flow, all these fish are great cooked in this way; try to eat oily fish three times a week if possible.

So, if you’re a hay fever sufferer, hopefully some of these natural remedies can help stop you sneezing your way through the summer!

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