A Nutritionist’s Guide To Boost Your Immunity This Winter
6 minutes read
Looking to boost your immunity this winter? We hear you. Colder months are almost upon us, and wintery weather conjures images of spiced lattes, cosy fires, and… a dreaded cold. So, before you reach for the cashmere blankets and Lemsip, read our tips to help boost your immune system – so it’s in tip-top shape when the temperature drops.
To find out the best way to make it through the colder months illness-free, we turned to Marilia Chamon, founder of Gutfulness Nutrition, a UK-registered nutritional therapist. With Dr Sammie Gill, PhD, RD specialist gastroenterology dietitian, and scientific research and development manager at Symprove, for five practical ways to boost your immunity this winter.
Is the immune system weaker in winter?
Yes, and it’s unfortunate and not a winter myth. Winter weather makes our immune system somehow falter.
This is for three reasons: first of all, we spend way more time in close proximity to each other and in enclosed spaces either to keep warm or stay close to each other (especially during holiday festivities where we get too touchy with almost everyone – Christmas spirit it is!) This makes the virus spreadable and circulates faster through closed environments. The next thing we know, we’re sniffing and sneezing on our way home.
The second reason is that cold-causing viruses tend to thrive in lower humidity. Experts say a drop in humidity makes it easier for airborne viral particles to travel. Yale researchers suggest combating this by increasing water vapour in the air using humidifiers.
Thirdly, without much sunlight in the UK, we run low on Vitamin D, which helps power the body’s immune system, making us more vulnerable to infection.
Nutritionist-approved five ways to boost your immunity this winter
“Keeping your immune system healthy is a year-round job. So making healthy nutrition and lifestyle choices on a day-to-day basis is key to fighting infections and disease,” advises Marilia Chamon, founder of Gutfulness Nutrition, a UK registered nutritional therapist and gut health specialist.
1. Cut the junk
That being said, Chamon strongly recommends starting with loading up your winter grocery list, focusing on the immune system boosting nutritious food, and not overloading yourself with holiday sweets and alcohol.
As much as possible, try to cut out or limit processed, packaged or junk food intake as they all upset our immune system – like takeaways, deli meats, baked goods and sugary treats and fizzy beverages and focus on consuming food in its simplest form.
“Eat a nutritious diet based around fresh whole foods and high-quality proteins that provide all essential micronutrients and amino acids,” she recommends.
2. Essential vitamins for the immune system
To give you more of an idea of what needs to go on your food shopping list, Chamon listed down foods you can consume to up your essential vitamins and minerals intake and boost your winter immunity.
“Luckily, some of the foods listed below are in season in the UK, for example, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, carrots, pumpkin, tomatoes,” she says.
Vitamin A and beta carotene: organ meats, eggs, butter, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, carrots, spinach, butternut squash
Vitamin C: peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes
Vitamin D: egg yolks, salmon, tuna, sardines, and fortified foods such as cereals
Zinc: oysters, shellfish, red meat, cashews, pumpkin seeds
3. Focus on improving your gut health
“All our immune responses require input from our gut bacteria. They are like the eyes and ears of our immune system and communicate with our immune cells to protect us against viruses and pathogens; therefore, looking after your gut health is also paramount,” says Chamon.
According to UCLA Health, “The foods we eat, affect the diversity and composition of bacteria in the gut, which affect immune cells. Those gut bugs are healthiest and support strong immunity when their hosts (that’s us) consume plant foods that are high in fibre.”
“Work from the inside out is my advice and consume a nutrient-dense plant-based diet to target the gut microbiome,” Dr Sammie Gill, PhD, RD specialist gastroenterology dietitian, and scientific research and development manager at Symprove.
Adding: “Variety is key – a hallmark feature of a healthy gut microbiome is diversity. Focus on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes. These foods are packed with diverse types of dietary fibre – a nutrient our gut microbes love,” the British Dietetic Association (BDA) member adds.
Stanford experts showed that a 10-week diet high in fermented foods boosts microbiome diversity and improves immune responses. Fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, miso, tempeh, kombucha or even natural live yoghurt.
Read: The Signs Your Gut Microbiome Is Out Of Balance And Ways To Fix It
4. Supplement wisely
To improve your gut health, why not supplement your nutrient-dense diet and healthy lifestyle with a probiotic?
For gut health: Look for strains: E. faecium, L. rhamnosus, L. plantarum, and L. acidophilus. These carefully selected four bacteria strains work in synergy to help support your gut microbiome.
Try Symprove, £39.99. It contains all four strains and extracts of germinated barley, sodium citrate, potassium sorbate and Vitamin C working together for a healthy gut.
Chamon swears by Inessa’s Immunity Complex as a winter immune support supplement, £24.99.
“I love Inessa’s Immunity Complex, which contains a unique combination of vitamins, minerals and botanicals, including beta-glucans and medicinal mushrooms.”
It is formulated with antioxidant-rich black elderberry, high-strength vitamin C and vitamin D, combined with zinc, selenium, and medicinal mushrooms, all the ingredients your body needs to boost your immune system to fight against illness.
5. Lead a healthy and active winter lifestyle
While winter weather makes a perfect excuse to linger a bit longer in bed, make sure you prioritise leading a healthy and active lifestyle.
Since we learned how the gut plays a key role in keeping our immune system strong, it’s important that we not only focus on our diet but also our lifestyle because they all play a part in our gut health.
Dr Gill says: “For example, sleep. Often underrated but so important. Driven by our internal body clock, our gut microbes have their own circadian rhythm, which changes the shape of the microbial landscape over a 24-hr period. It’s key to prioritise the quality and quantity of sleep. Aim for 7-9 hours per night, keep timings consistent, limit screen time in the few hours before bed and keep the room cool at night to mimic the drop in body temperature.”
Stress weakens our immune system, so de-stress. “This is because the gut and brain are intrinsically connected (the ‘gut-brain axis’). There are several approaches to help calm communication. For example, diaphragmatic breathing exercises, meditation or yoga/pilates, use of apps (e.g., Calm, Headspace, Ten Percent Happier).” says Dr Gill.
We know the holiday seasons stress some of us but prioritise your mental health and make time for me-time. Here are some Mood-Boosting Beauty & Meditative Rituals you can start this winter.
Lastly, Dr Gill recommends getting out and braving the UK winter wind for a 30-minute walk, or you can stay home. We spoke to UK’s top celebrity trainer Luke Worthington about one of the best activities you can do for your health, anywhere from the comfort of your home.