Eating to beat the winter chills

Henrietta Norton BSc, Dip NT, MBANT, AFMCP Co-founder of Wild Nutrition and Nutritional Therapist.

Writing on winter ills seems surreal after the nourishing heat we have been fortunate to have in the last month. But, as far-fetched as it may seem, if we want to begin our preparations for winter, the time is now; preparation is the work-horse of prevention.

The immune system has been likened to your body’s private army, defending our cells against attack and repairing after invasion. Here is our 5-point plan to support it this winter, so that it can support you:

 

1. Start from the base – Your digestion is your army headquarters where 70% of the immune system resides, the majority of which is in the form of good bacteria. A recent study suggested that beneficial flora may also promote brain activity in women, surely a perk for all of us who find that motivation is affected by the darker days. These good guys are found in live natural yoghurt or a good multi-strain daily supplement, ensuring you have adequate levels of these could reduce your susceptibility to attack.

 

2. Eat a rainbow everyday – Nourishing your body against the winter chill starts from the root up. Vegetables provide an array of phytonutrients that help to keep our cells in ‘fighting form’. Root vegetables are particularly dense in key nutrients such as selenium and vitamin C that contribute to the normal function of the immune system whereas the antioxidant group of carotenoids support the protection of our cells against oxidative damage. Also a rich source of fibre for healthy digestion, these colourful wonders make great winter warming soups – think squashes, beetroot and carrots. Add in a healthy dose of greens such as kale, spinach, fresh herbs and whizz up with some cannellini beans to give a smooth creamy finish.

 

3. Medicinal Mushrooms – Used in Tibetan medicine for thousands of years for the treatment of disease, cordyceps sinesi, maitake and reishi have gradually crept into the interest of western complementary therapy. They are rich in polysaccharides that not only  support the immune systems response to viral infection, but also inhibit the virus’ ability to replicate. This means that we may be better defended and on the occasions we do get ill, strength and duration of the infection is reduced. No wonder these mushrooms are called the ‘mushrooms of immortality’. Shiitake and oyster mushrooms also contain the benefits, albeit at lower levels, so throw these into your stir-fry or lightly grill and add to sourdough bread with chopped parsley for a nutritious breakfast. Alternatively choose a daily multi-nutrient that includes these and take during the autumn and winter months.

 

4. Nourish your mind – According to statistics seasonal affective disorder is experienced by 1 in 50 of us in the UK, with 1 in 8 of us experiencing the milder “winter blues”. A lack of serotonin in the brain has been attributed as a factor in the development of SAD. Serotonin is synthesized in the gut (our ‘second brain’) with the help of vitamin B5 and vitamin D. Nourishing your body with foods rich in magnesium may also play a role. Inadequate magnesium appears to reduce serotonin levels and recent research has highlighted the mood supporting benefits of this fabulous mineral even in treatment-resistant mild depression. Build in magnesium rich delights into your daily feast such oats, millet, pumpkin seeds, almonds, chard and spinach. As 70% of western women are estimated to be deficient in magnesium you may choose to supplement your diet.

 

5. To C or not to C – It is safe to say that Vitamin C has firmly placed itself at the centre of natural immune support, and rightly so. This prolific vitamin contributes to the normal function of the immune system, protection of cells from damage, and cellular repair. This very action means that stores are also readily used up by lifestyle factors such as alcohol, cigarette smoke, environmental pollutants and high levels of stress. As the body cannot store Vitamin C, our body relies on us to feed it well with foods such as peppers, broccoli, lemons, berries and papaya. Bioflavanoids found in these foods have immune benefits of their own as well as supporting the body’s use of this uber vitamin. However there is one part of the hype that shouldn’t be believed – the more you take the better. Your body cannot absorb more than 500mg, any more than that and it can affect your digestion. Another myth is that the power of Vitamin C in food is due to ascorbic acid (the form used in ‘synthetic’ supplements). In fact the health benefits of ascorbic acid are generated by a ‘team’ of other co-factors found in the food. This is just another reason why research has shown that Food-Grown Vitamin C is better tolerated than synthetic ‘isolated’ forms.

So as the seasons get ready to shift, start preparing your army now and let nature's battle begin…

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