It’s that time of year when we’re all starting to get run down, and there’s no easier way to boost your immune system than switching up your diet. Along with regular exercise and decent sleep, nature has all you need to fight off whatever winter throws at you. Nutritional Therapist Jodie Brandman talks us through the nine nutrient-dense foods that will up your defences, and the best ways to eat and drink them…
Chocolate lovers, this one’s for you. Opt for cacao powder or dark chocolate above conventional sugary bars, as it’s the beans that contain flavonoids and exert powerful antioxidant effects (antioxidants are capable of neutralising free radicals and preventing damage from occurring in the body). On top of that, cacao also contains theobromine and phenylethyamine, which are mood boosting compounds, keeping you happy and healthy at the same time.
Drink it: In a comforting hot chocolate. Make a mega healthy hot chocolate by warming your milk of choice (try hazelnut milk for extra creaminess) with cacao powder, plus some cinnamon and stevia for sweetness.
Whilst all berries have antioxidant properties, blueberries are at the top of the list. Not only are they packed with vitamin C, they also contain gallic acid; a natural antifungal and antiviral agent. The proanthocyanidins in blueberries have been found to reduce inflammation and studies have shown the fruit has brain-boosting and digestion enhancing properties too.
Eat them: In your morning oats. Get your daily blueberry fix by stirring a handful into your porridge. Throw in some peanut butter for protein, and it’s a truly nutritious breakfast.
With the rise of the matcha latte, it’s impossible to avoid hearing about the benefits of green tea and the wonderful things it does to our bodies – from weight loss to improvement in heart health. Science has shown green tea is capable of increasing the regulatory T cells too – which control the immune response to foreign particles.
Drink it: All day in the office. Swap cups of black tea for green tea, and switch up your morning coffee for a matcha latte too – we guarantee you’ll have just as much energy.
One of the most vitamin C-rich plants on the planet, camu camu is a South American fruit classed as a superfood. The fruit contains minerals, phytochemicals and amino acids to help the body detoxify and heal.
Drink it: In a smoothie. In the UK, camu camu comes in powder form – whizz it up in a blender with coconut water, berries and spinach for the ultimate post-workout hit.
Chaga is a medicinal mushroom that grows on birch trees and has an abundance of antioxidants and beta-glucans, known to help balance the immune response.
Drink it: As a hot tonic. The best way to draw out chaga mushrooms’ nutrients is by brewing them, so mix a chaga powder with hot water (but not boiling) and brew for a few minutes before straining.
Echinacea is a herb native to North America and has been used for hundreds of years to treat a variety of ailments; from respiratory infections to inflammation, skin disorders to mood issues. It also contains polysaccharides, vitamin C and flavonoids.
Drink it: As a tincture. Echinacea is best taken multiple times per day, so skip bulky pills and opt for a tincture instead – simply add a few drops to a glass of water or fruit juice.
This wonderful seasoning has been used for centuries as a powerful medicine. The active component is called allicin, which converts to sulpur-containing compounds shown to boost white blood cells in the body.
Eat it: With everything savoury – from pasta to curry (just keep some breath freshener on hand). Top tip: crushing garlic and letting it stand for ten minutes before cooking is thought to boost its medicinal effects.
Is there anything coconut oil can’t do? Not only does it make a great hair treatment, make-up remover and salad dressing, it can also be used to fight infections – coconut oil contains lauric acid, which has anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial qualities.
Eat it: Again, with pretty much everything – mix in with your smoothies, soups and stews, or cook your eggs and veggies in it. Try a ‘Bulletproof Coffee’ too, if you dare.
Probiotics & Fermented foods
Around 70% of your immune system is located in the gut (in the form of gut-associated lymphoid tissue or GALT), so it’s vital to keep your digestive system happy if you want to fend off flu. Replenishing the beneficial flora with probiotics and fermented foods can help your body extract nutrients from food and crowd out any pathogens you come into contact with.
Take probiotics: In pill form – we recommend getting ‘food-grade’ probiotics to get the best effects.
Eat fermented foods: Like yogurt, pickled vegetables and sauerkraut – the latter of which is surprisingly simple to make at home.