• Xanthi Maragkoudaki, PhD, RNutr

What to eat in a day to keep the doctor away.

I don't know about you but in this house we have all been catching one cold after the other.  So you know what they say... You "teach" what you need to learn (or be reminded anyway).It seems also that wherever you go everyone is ill too. Interestingly, late September used to be the period that people would be more prone to infections but times and seasons are changing so are viruses and bacterias' habits.  Unfortunately one way or the other we will all catch a cold here or there but how do we enhance our immune system to get rid of those nasty bugs quicker?

The main micronutrients that have been found to play a role in our immune system are:

Vitamin A: Vitamin A plays a crucial role in immune function and deficiency has been associated with more severe respiratory tract infections, measles and poor response to vaccine. Moreover, retinoic acid (vitamin A metabolite) stimulates a pro-inflammatory action that helps to overcome infection. 

Get it from: Liver, I know some of you may go eek but it is the best source of  Vitamin A. One portion provides enough 3 times the daily requirements. Then some vegetarian sources include carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, broccoli, mango, broccoli and butter.

Vitamin C: The strong anti-oxidant affects most aspects of the immune system. Reduced vitamin C results in reduced immune function and the white cells efficiency in killing bacterias. The efficiency of vitamin C on the common cold is disputed but an intake of 2-3 g of vitamin C /day on the onset of symptoms seems to  help to alleviate the symptoms.

Get it from  Some great sources include guava (with an impressive 628% of RDV) , cantaloupe, red pepper, green pepper, black currant, strawberries, kiwi, citrus fruits, papaya, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale and  parsley.

Zinc: Zinc deficiency is associated with an increased infection rate. Zinc appears to slow down the immune response in order to prevent a severe inflammation in the body. Zinc also helps with acne problems and has healing properties on skin problems if applied topically.

Get it from Red meat (especially lamb), poultry, oysters (111% RDV), crab, lobster, pulses, pumpkin nuts, cashews.

Iron: Iron deficiency is common in children and young women. Individuals with lower levels of iron appear to be more prone to disease. There are is also some evidence showing that iron supplementation can increase the risk of infection. However, this is more common in tropic areas. Most of the evidence show that supplementation with iron can reverse any immune deficiency due to reduced iron levels.

Get it from  Some great sources of iron are spirulina, fortified milk, cereals and bread,  liver, beef, lentils, eggs dark chocolate (as if we needed a reason), spinach, black beans, pistachios, dried apricots and broccoli.

Vitamin D: There is evidence that vitamin D is involved in the regulation of the immune system. Individuals with lower vitamin D levels appear to be more susceptible to infections and autoimmune disorders.

Get it from The sun! The skin produces vitamin D when exposed to the sun. Nowadays though, we spend too much time indoors and we protect ourselves with sunblocks due the damage the sun. Therefore, there is almost never enough sun exposure to be able to produce enough vitamin D, especially in the winter. Food sources of vitamin D include: Fortified milk, fortified cereals, egg yolk, oily fish, cod liver oil, meat and offal. Do try though to spend some time outdoors and now in the winter you don't need sunblock for short periods of time ( e.g.10 mins). Have a look at British Nutrition Foundation's page here for more info on the current recommendations on vitamin D.

Selenium: Selenium is essential in controlling oxidative stress which makes it a vital antioxidant. It also plays  an  important  role in  including immune response and deficiency in selenium may result in increased infections.

Get it from Brazil nuts, tuna, halibut, sardines, grass-fed beef, turkey liver and chicken

Vitamin E: Vitamin E is also a great anti-oxidant. Except in premature infants and in some elderly vitamin E deficiency is rare. However, reduced vitamin E is associated with reduced antibody production and impaired immune response.

Get it from  Seeds, nuts (almonds provide the greatest intake among nuts), oily fish, spinach, avocados, olive oil, squash and broccoli. 

So in order to prevent those colds, make sure you have a varied diet (What's new right?). There are also some easy ways to protect yourself:

Get dressed well. When people say I caught a cold they basically got a virus. Some scientists argue that moderate cold exposure for short time doesn't influence your immunity. However, it was recently shown that when you are cold your body's immune response drops (actually your nose's) and therefore you are more susceptible to these common viruses. 

Protect your guts. "Leaky gut" (the medical term is intestinal hyperpermeability is a condition where material from your gut can escape to your body. This can cause inflammation, malabsorption of vital nutrients and is thought to be linked with various health problems including recurring infections. So eating yoghurts or other foods with prebiotic properties or maybe investing on a good course of probiotics can enhance your guts' lining and prevent or heal this condition.

Quit smoking. Well if you are a smoker there many more reasons to quit smoking but while you are smoking your immune response drops by about 5%. So again easier for the viruses or bacteria to enter your body and torture you for some days.

Good hygiene: Another reason we get more sick during the winter is because we spend more time indoors with other people which make it easy for pathogens to go from one person to another. Simple steps like washing our hands can actually prevent lots of infections.

Exercise. Regular exercise promotes general good health good circulation which allows the immune system to work more efficiently. Very intense exercise though can have the opposite effect as it is a stressor to the body. Which leads to the last step...

Relax. Stress can lead to overproduction of cortisol which suppresses the immune system. Therefore, pathogens may have already entered your body but due to the anti-inflammatory action of cortisol no symptoms manifest. However, when that cortisol drops, the symptoms appear. 

So let's all eat a greater variety of foods, wrap in a warm coat and take a nice long winter walk with our loved ones! Laughing is mandatory and the greatest anti-stressor!

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