The best ways to winterproof your health
Cold weather can knock our immune systems, making us more susceptible to colds and flu. According to the NHS, people over 65 and those of us with long-term conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and asthma are the among the most vulnerable. Aside from getting a flu jab, there are plenty of essential vitamins and minerals that you can add to your diet to build up your defences.
Dial up your D
We tend to get most of our vitamin D from sunlight, but during the winter our levels start to deplete. “Low levels of sunlight in winter mean we may not get out required vitamin D nutrient,” says Dr Rupert Critchley, GP, founder and clinical director of VIVA Skin Clinics. “However some foods such as oily fish and some breakfast cereals also contain this essential vitamin.” Whether or not you manage to catch some winter rays, it’s best to top up your intake to look after your respiratory tract and protect yourself from the common cold, flu and pneumonia.
It’s worth knowing that, contrary to popular belief, vitamin C doesn’t actually prevent colds or flu, nor does it speed up our recovery. But it does help with the normal functioning of your immune system. Oranges and many other fruits and vegetables are great sources of vitamin C but as this nutrient can’t be stored in the body, you will need to include it daily. If you struggle to get your recommended 40mg of vitamin C each day, supplements offer a convenient way to support your intake. Find out more about why your body needs vitamin C here.
This vitamin helps to us to maintain healthy skin and eyes while strengthening the body’s natural defences against illness and infection.
“This nutrient is a powerful antioxidant that may reduce your risk of flu infections,” explains Dr Rupert Critchley. “Foods such as plant oils, nuts and seeds, have plenty of Vitamin E to keep you going over those cold winter months.” For some cooking inspiration, why not try an oat muesli with almonds, wheat germ and sunflower seeds or crab meat, avocado and toasted hazelnuts on a bed of salad?
Having more of the right bacteria has been linked to numerous health benefits, including enhanced immune function. If your gut is unhealthy, it may struggle to absorb and use the nutrients in the food you’re eating. Dr Critchley says, “If you’ve come down with a chesty infection and have been on antibiotics, make sure you take probiotics alongside them to ensure healthy digestion.” But maintaining a healthy immune system goes way beyond just taking a supplement. Living a balanced lifestyle, getting enough sleep and eating food with lots of nutrients such as kimchi and sauerkraut is key to warding off any illnesses too.
Your heart isn’t the only thing which can benefit from a dose of omega-3 fatty acids. When it comes to warding off a cold or the flu, upping your intake of this essential nutrient may do the trick too. Fish like salmon and tuna contain omega-3 fatty acids which can help to strengthen your immune system. Dr Rupert Critchley advises eating at least two portions of fish a week. Try a slow-roasted salmon with fennel, citrus and chilli recipe, or mackerel with crushed potatoes and oregano. Alternatively take a fish oil supplement.
Banish the sniffles by eating more foods which are packed with zinc or by taking a zinc supplement.
Studies have shown that zinc supplements can reduce the duration of a cold byu one day, specially when taken within 24 hours of experiencing the first symptoms. Consider taking zinc gluconate or acetate lozenges every two hours within the first two days of a cold. Dietary sources include oysters, crab, lobster, red meat, beans and nuts.
Dr Rupert Critchley is a GP, and founder and clinical director of VIVA Skin Clinics.