As the cooler days roll in, so too do those bacteria and viruses that cause the common cold, the flu and other winter ailments. It’s almost impossible to avoid exposure to these bugs, which makes it really important to ensure your immune system is in top shape going into winter.

There are, of course, many things you can do to keep your immune system healthy and choosing fresh, whole foods is the foundation. I’ve listed below my top five food and lifestyle recommendations to embrace this winter.

1. Protein is needed for building cells including immune cells so make sure you are getting enough quality protein each day. Protein is not stored so while you are down with a bug make sure you include a small amount of easily digestible protein in each main meal. Homemade chicken soup or bone broth provides easily digestible protein and loads of minerals needed for recovery from ill health.

2. Immune supportive foods like ginger, citrus, garlic, shiitake mushrooms and turmeric boost your immunity as they provide nutrients and compounds with amazing medicinal properties. For example Shiitake mushrooms contain beta-glucans which are known for their immune enhancing properties while garlic has antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties.

3. Gut health is critical in maintaining a strong immune system. Your gastrointestinal tract contains approximately 70% of your immune system, so ensuring your gut is populated with plenty of beneficial micro-organisms (‘good bugs’) is central to maintaining optimal immune function. You can boost your gut health by including fermented or cultured foods like natural yoghurt, sauerkraut, kefir, miso and kimchi (that contain friendly live bacteria or probiotics) in your diet each day.

4. Sleep and rest is so important for preventing illness and helping the body to heal when sick. Make sure you are getting adequate sleep and when the first signs of a cold or ailment appear give your body time to heal by resting.

5. Consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables that contain key nutrients like vitamin C and zinc will ensure you have the nutrients essential for a strong immune system.  Nutrients like vitamin C and zinc provide the  foundation to help reduce the incidence and severity of colds and infections. Vitamin C plays a key role in the mobilisation of your immune system defences and foods like citrus fruits, capsicum, broccoli, strawberries and kiwifruit are rich in vitamin C. Zinc helps infection-fighting white blood cells to be deployed at the first sign of a disease-causing invader, such as a virus or bacteria. Zinc containing foods include meat, eggs, seafood, nuts and seeds.

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