Winter is here and, by golly, it's chilly. Somewhere inbetween the romantic side of winter - with its fallen golden leaves, heavy coats, hot water bottles, and thick cozy socks - comes the darker side, aka the dreaded cold and flu season.
Winter can be really hamper our immune system. The cold dry air sees us spending more times indoors, where bugs and germs proposer; particularly in crowded spaces, like schools or the workplace. To counter this, it's important to keep our defences, aka immunity, fighting fit - which is where diet and lifestyle can play a role.
To help avoid the wintery blues, here are tips on keeping healthy this winter:
Eat your fruit and vege
Fruit and veggies contains a plethora of goodies that help fight and protect against winter bugs, like vitamins and minerals (in the war against germs, consider these like heavy artillery for our immune system!), antioxidants, phtyotchemicals and dietary fibre. Keeping up an intake of fruit and veggies is essential all year around - and as the season changes, so does our local produce.
What's in season over winter?
- Fruit: citrus fruit, like oranges, mandarins, lemons and limes weigh down our fruit trees; as well as kiwifruit and tamarillo
- Veggies: butternut pumpkin, parsnip, brocolli, leeks, fennel and brussel sprouts
Over the winter months these seasonal goods will be super accessible, fresh and cheap, due to local supply and demand - just look for produce marked 'grown in NZ' (or wherever you live!) at your local supermarket. Otherwise, when produce is out of season, save your wallet and buy frozen or tinned - a great way to get nutrients in, while still being uber economical.
Soups, stews and casseroles
As the seasons change, often our food choices do too. The drop in temperature tends to gravitate us towards comforting dishes, that help counter the cold by warming us up from the inside-out. Enter soups, stews and casseroles.
These warming dishes are an ideal way to boost your nutrient intake over winter time, while totally nailing the comfort factor. They can be ridiculously economical too - make use of seasonal veggies, bulk them up with cheap-as-chips fibre-rich legumes, like kidney beans, chickpeas or lentils, and celebrate cheaper cuts of meat - slow-cooking makes even the toughest of cuts ridiculously tender and juicy! Your stomach, health and wallet will all be happy - win, win, wins all around.
Here's some soup ideas to get you going:
Vitamin C aka the winter warrior...
Out of all the nutrients possibly synonymous with winter wellness, vitamin C has to take the cake. This superstar of a nutrient is a potent antioxidant that greatly aids immune defence - it supports a wide variety of our immune systems cellular function and response, including our skins barrier function and its protection against pathogens (1).
Research has shown that vitamin C concentrations rapidly decline during stress and infection (for example, the common cold); so it can be a great nutritional strategy to ensure a good vitamin C intake when you've fallen prey to the bugs, to help reduce the risk, duration and severity of illness (2).
Being a water-soluble nutrient, this means vitamin C isn't stored by our body, so we must get an adequate intake each and every day. Food-based sources rich in vitamin C include kiwifruit, citrus, kale, broccoli, lemon and berries. Try fresh fruit slices as a snack, a blended orange banana smoothie, or stewed berries and apples on your morning bowl of oats.
...and it's pal Zinc
The mineral zinc has much to offer to immunity, from its role in the normal development and function of certain immune cells; to supporting the barrier of our skin, which protects against pathogens; to its role as an antioxidant and the fight against damaging free-radicals.
One particular study showed that when zinc supplementation was administered within 24 hour of the common cold symptoms, it reduced the duration of symptoms in healthy people, attributed to its antiviral properties (4). It's always important to supplement with guidance from a health professional.
Like vitamin C, our body doesn't store zinc, so eating zinc-rich foods daily is important to ensure we're maintaining adequate levels within the body - these can include shellfish (e.g. oysters, mussels, shrimp), nuts, seeds (e.g. pumpkin, flax), meat, eggs...and even a little dark chocolate.
On a rainy, dark winter morning, dragging ourselves from under a snug warm blanket is tough. But no matter the season, exercise carries endless health benefits and is an important part of any self-care routine.
If the outdoors is too chilly for your liking, consider an indoor activity. Otherwise, get rugged up and hit the pavement for a crisp walk - this is a great way to support vitamin D levels (another nutrient important for immune health) over winter, in which many of us become at risk of deficiency due to less sunlight and more time spent indoors. Don't forget about incidental exercise too - take the stairs, do house work, or do 10 squats while you're waiting for the kettle to boil - it all counts.
Rest when you need
When we're buggered its important to listen to our body and rest. Take the day off when you need, lie in bed, binge-watch Netflix, and catch up on zzz's. Research has shown that getting less than the recommend 8 hours of sleep per night, is linked to a lower resistance against viruses (5). Save those who you'd typically be in contact with (no one likes a sneezy snivelly person in the workplace!), and give your body the rest it needs to recover - it really is one of the simplest and most effective remedies.