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Winter Wellness - the Power of Good Nutrition
to Boost Immunity

Group on a hike

Maintaining a healthy immune system is important for all of us all year around, but we seem to pay more attention to it during the winter months, owing to our seasonal colds and flu. Our immune system is complicated and is influenced by many factors, including our dietary patterns, age, activity and stress levels, smoking status, alcohol consumption, sleep quality and certain medical conditions. It is not possible to boost our immune system with our dietary patterns, however it can help us to maintain the healthy functioning of our immune system.

Eating a balanced diet with a variety of different foods matters and not one food or nutrient is more valuable than the other.

  • Try to eat 5-7 portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Go seasonal and choose either fresh or frozen.
  • Have at least one portion with every meal and snack, throughout the day. Choose from lean meat, poultry,  fish, eggs, dairy, pulses, meat alternatives, nuts and seeds.
  • Consume fish at least twice a week with one being an oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines or trout.
  • Choose brown, wholegrain or wholemeal breads, pasta, rice and cereals. Use olive oil instead of butter and herbs & spices, instead of salt, to flavour food.
  • Keep hydrated with 6-8 glasses of water a day, but bear in mind that all liquid counts.

A healthy gut microbiome (the range of bacteria and other organisms living in our gut) also plays an important role in our immune health. The best way to maintain a healthy gut is to eat plenty of high fibre plant foods, such as fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils. Fermented foods like live yoghurt, kefir, kombucha & sauerkraut may also help to increase the diversity of the microbes in our gut.

There are a few micronutrients that we should shine a light on, when it comes to immune health, as these nutrients will help with the growth and function of our immune cells:

  • Vitamin A helps the skin, respiratory tract and gut healthy and it can be found in liver, oily fish, dairy foods, eggs, leafy greens, yellow and orange vegetables.​

  • Vitamin C stimulates the formation of antibodies, and the function of white blood cells. Sources include citrus fruits, peppers, strawberries, broccoli and tomatoes.​

  • Vitamin D is known to enhance the function of immune cells. It is made by the skin from exposure to sunlight and food sources including oily fish, egg yolks and fortified foods.​

  • B vitamins play several roles, including immune cell production. B6 food sources include poultry, fish, fortified cereals, eggs, soya, bananas and avocados.​ B9 (Folate) can be found in green vegetables, pulses, fortified cereals, dairy foods, oranges and berries. B12 is present in meat, fish, dairy foods, eggs and fortified cereals.

  • Iron is a component of enzymes critical for immune cell function and is present in red meat, offal, beans, nuts, dried fruit and fortified foods. Vegetarians, vegans, and menstruating woman are at risk of developing an Iron deficiency.

  • Zinc helps with wound healing and supports immune response. You can find zinc in meat, poultry, shellfish, dairy foods, cereals, bread, nuts and seeds.

It's difficult for us to get enough vitamin D from food alone. Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D. However, between October and early March, we do not get enough vitamin D from sunlight in Ireland. Therefore, adults and children over the age of one are advised to take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D. If vitamin D levels are found to be low, then a higher dose may be required, but this should be discussed with your G.P. or healthcare professional.

There are a number of vitamin D rich foods, and it is important for us to consider eating them on a daily basis too. These include oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and trout, egg yolks and foods fortified with vitamin D such as spreads, breakfast cereals, milk and yoghurts.

Making healthy food choices is one of the best ways to ensure your family is well defended against infections.

This article is thanks to our Partner - Food Choice

About Food Choice

Food Choice is an accredited team of Registered Nutritionists and Dietitians who specialise in workplace health and wellbeing. Irish Life Wellbeing partners with Food Choice to design and implement nutritional health programmes to improve employee health and wellbeing through its @home and @work services, which includes personalised nutrition consultations and research-led nutrition guidance via webinars, workshops, key messages and recipes. 

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