Do you tend to suffer from heavy or frequent bouts of colds and flu over the winter months? Eating the right foods can enhance your body’s natural defences and help fight infection. A well-functioning immune system requires a sufficient number of white blood cells to be produced to detect and fight infections, but you can also decrease the chances of germs entering your body if your respiratory system, digestive system and skin are all healthy, as they provide a physical barrier against infection.

Orange-fleshed vegetables and squashes, such as carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkins, contain carotenoids, which are converted to Vitamin A in our bodies. Vitamin A is involved in the production of connective tissue, which helps to keep the skin healthy and resilient to infection.

A variety of fruit and vegetables contain Vitamin C, which has been shown to lower the incidence of colds and other respiratory infections. Apples contain high levels and research has shown that they are particularly good at protecting against colds, flu and other viruses.

Beef, pork, poultry, oysters, milk and yoghurt are rich in zinc. Recent research suggests zinc may be more effective than vitamin C at protecting against colds and reducing their duration and intensity. It boosts the immune system by aiding white blood cell production and wound healing. Yoghurt has the added benefit of containing probiotic bacteria, which prevent infection-causing bacteria from accumulating in the gut. Oysters (and other shellfish) also contain selenium, which helps the body produce cytokines. L-theanine, found in green and black tea, increases the amount of a cytokine known as interferon. Cytokines help white blood cells to identify and attack germs.

Chicken soup is not only comforting; it also has proven benefits in improving chesty symptoms. It contains cysteine, which stops white cells accumulating in lungs, while the salty stock helps to thin the mucus.

Oily fish contains omega-3; its anti-inflammatory properties increase airflow in the lungs and protect against respiratory infections.

Mushrooms, garlic, oats and barley all have antibacterial properties, as well as helping to stimulate the immune system. Manuka honey has antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties. Echinacea also boosts immunity, by increasing white blood cell production, and is often taken as a herbal supplement to ward off germs, but one should bear in mind that it is actually less potent than oats and barley so is best used as an addition to a healthy winter diet, rather than an alternative.

Finally, it is not just the right food that will keep you well this winter. Regular exercise boosts white blood cell production and ensuring you keep warm through the cold months means your body can use more of its energy to fight bugs!

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