Immune boosting diet

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Feeling under the weather? Strengthen your immune system with these superfoods and vitamins...

Immune boosting diet
It's never long after the first drop of rain hits the ground that the hacking coughs, annoying sniffles and scratchy sore throats start, bringing down your mood and leaving you susceptible to all sorts of bugs and viruses. Have you ever wondered though how some people never seem to get ill despite being around others who pick up every cold and bug floating around? Your ability to stay well and fight off illness all depends on your immune system and how well you prepare it for winter's onslaught. To help you stand a fighting chance of staying fighting fit this winter we've put together a foolproof army of superfoods and vitamins to strengthen your immune system and keep you looking and feeling great.

The superfoodsEvery now and again there will be a lot of hype stirred up about a 'new' superfood but you don't have to stuff your face and spend a small fortune on the latest fashionable fruit to stay healthy, there are plenty of common foods that we all have readily available in our fridges which are packed full of body-boosting properties.

Garlic - Garlic has antibacterial properties that help to prevent infections and the onset of common colds and the dreaded flu. Garlic also acts as a stimulant, providing a natural energy release when you need it most, perfect for days when you just can't seem to get going and, while most bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics, garlic doesn't. As well as adding garlic into your usual recipes get an instant potent fix try drinking garlic tea. Steep a finely chopped clove of garlic in hot water and add lemon juice and honey for flavour. For an even easier fix on the go simply use one of Dorot's Crushed Garlic cubes instead. The garlic, ginger or chilli packs (£1.49 each, sainsburys.com) can be frozen and used as needed making it even easier to stay healthy.

Ginger - Ginger is the perfect remedy for flu sufferers who often suffer shakes and shivers. Like garlic, it is a stimulant so provides a much-needed energy boost and it helps to alleviate nausea making this a great hangover cure if you can stomach it. Get into the habit of adding plenty of ginger into salads, stir-fries and homemade soups or try adding some to hot water for a cup of warming tea.

Chilli - We all know that when you eat a meal with plenty of chilli in it your nose starts streaming but chilli has plenty of other benefits other than just working as a great decongestant. Chilli is full of antibacterial properties and a single chilli contains more vitamin C than an orange. It is also acts as a natural pain reliever and helps to alleviate migraines and sinus headaches. Winter is the perfect time of year to add chilli to Thai-style noodle soups, curries and pasta dishes and you might even shed a few pounds while you're at it as studies have shown that eating chillies can raise your metabolic rate by up to 23% for about three hours.

Blueberries - Blueberries are the most highly regarded of fruit when it comes to all-round goodness. These sweet-tasting berries are full of antioxidants which help to counteract the presence of toxins in our bodies and they also contain anti-inflammatory properties which help with the absorption of vitamins so all of your hard work won't go to waste.

Broccoli - Yes, our mothers were right when they harped on about eating our greens. Broccoli is often hailed as the king of all superfoods thanks to its ability to guard against cancer, reduce the risk of having a heart attack, all thanks to the high levels of antioxidants, vitamins C and E and, every woman's best friend, iron. The best way to eat broccoli is raw but if you prefer your vegetables cooked, steam it, that way all of the vital ingredients are preserved.

Carrots - Carrots are good for you because they are a rich source of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is a powerful immune booster that actually strengthens defences against both bacterial and viral infections. Studies show that the more beta-carotene consumed, the greater the increase in protective immune cells.

Beetroot - Beetroot is a great all rounder, bursting with minerals, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, beetroot is a must for anyone wanting to give their body a boost and cleanse. Try making a batch of beetroot soup for winter with plenty of fresh herbs and spices.

Green tea - Green tea is renowned for its ability to stop the clock when it comes to ageing but this superdrink can also protect you from the flu virus as well. Green tea is a rich source of a type of antioxidant known as a catechin which has been shown to increase a specific type of immune cell known to slow the spread of flu virus. Try and drink two to three cups a day and if you can't stand the taste add a slice of lemon or some honey to sweeten it up a little.

Brazil nuts - Brazil nuts make a great snack and if you eat just two or three a day you'll benefit from their great combination of immune-boosting nutrients including vitamin E, selenium and B vitamins.

Cranberries - Best known for helping to prevent and treat urinary tract infections, especially cystitis, in women these sweet tasting bright red berries have both anti-fungal and antiviral properties. Try and eat them in their raw form rather than in juice which is often full of sugar.

The supplements

The range of supplements and vitamins available on our supermarket shelves now can be incredibly overwhelming and, unless you've done your research it can be hard to separate the ones which can actually help you from the tablets that will do nothing but empty your purse. Gavin Stainton, Boots Healthcare Technical Expert says, "Key nutrients such as vitamin C and zinc play important and complementary roles in immune function within the human body in helping to reduce the duration, risk and severity of infectious diseases.

"A deficiency in one of these essential nutrients weakens the immune response since vitamin C is crucial for cellular immunity and zinc for the production of antibodies. Given that both vitamin C and zinc have an important and synergistic effect on the immune system, it is beneficial to combine the trace element zinc with a high dose of Vitamin C in one supplement such as Boots Immune Health Vitamin C and Zinc Effervescent Tablets (£2.85, boots.com)."

If you are already feeling the effects of a cold you can ease your symptoms while strengthening your immune system to shorten your recovery time. Duchy Herbals has released a collection of tinctures to help combat the effects of winter. Shake a couple of drops of Duchy Herbals Echina-Relief tincture (£10, boots.com) onto your tongue which includes echinacea to help ward off other bugs and viruses. If you're feeling blue due to the dark mornings and dull days try adding a few drops of Bach Original Flower Remedies Mustard (£5.99, hollandandbarrett.com) into your water to lift the dark clouds, ward of signs of seasonal affective disorder and pave the way for a happy, healthy winter.

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