Shivani Baijal, Senior Executive Nutritionist, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Gurugram
Pandemic has taught us that nourishing our immune system is important for us. One thing that works the best to improve our immune health is our diet. Our body needs nutritious foods to protect it from the effects of bacteria and viruses. Vitamin A, C, D, E, iron, folic acid, zinc, selenium and copper all these nutrients are required to strengthen the immune system. But intake of one single nutrient in large amounts won’t help. Therefore, it is required to eat a healthy balanced diet for a long time to build immunity. In winter it’s easy as the season brings so many nutritious foods with its seasonal goodness. So let’s know how you can boost your immune system this winter.
Winter meals should include a number of essential nutrients:
Vitamin A: it’s a fat soluble vitamin, found in its two forms retinol and beta carotene. We can get the benefits of vitamin A by adding eggs, dairy products, fortified foods and different yellow, red and green vegetables like sweet potato, carrot, bell pepper, spinach in our diet. It acts as an antioxidant and supports the health of the immune system.
Vitamin C: It’s a water soluble vitamin, and the human body can’t produce or store it. So it’s essential to consume it regularly in adequate amounts. In winter we have plenty of fresh sources of this vitamin. You can include citrus fruits like oranges, sweet lime, gooseberry, guava, peaches and veggies like bell peppers (red, yellow, green), broccoli, sweet potato etc. Vitamin C helps in iron absorption and boosts immunity.
Vitamin D: A sunshine vitamin, as the name clarifies sun rays exposure is the most potent source of vitamin D. And to meet your daily dose of this vitamin you can also include egg yolk, shiitake mushroom, dairy products, fish and fortified foods in your diet. In winters we are under the high risk of vitamin D deficiency which will affect calcium and phosphorus absorption in the body. In the immune system vitamin D acts to improve your ability to fight infections and to reduce inflammation.
Vitamin E: It plays a dual role in boosting the body’s immune response. It acts as an antioxidant in the body, helps to protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals and have an anti-inflammatory effect too. Best sources for vitamin E are vegetable oils like seeds, sunflower and safflower, peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds and wheat germ.
Iron: It helps in improving hemoglobin levels, which boosts oxygen supply to damaged cells, tissues, and organs. And as a result it strengthens our immune system. Therefore, iron-rich foods are so important to include in our diet. Winter brings a lot of options for us like spinach, beet greens, kale, broccoli, beans, lentils, millet, figs, raisins, dates, apricots and jaggery etc. And yes don’t forget to add vitamin C foods with your iron rich meal as it improves iron absorption.
Folic acid: Known as Vitamin B9, it plays a crucial role in the healthy balance of the immune system. Research says that inadequate levels of folic acid alter immune responses by affecting the protein synthesis and inhibits the activity of immune cells. Dark green leafy vegetables, dried beans, peanuts, citrus fruit and their juice contain good folic acid content. Also you can include folic acid fortified foods too.
Zinc: This mineral helps the immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses. Effectiveness of zinc has been shown in studies to prevent or reduce cold symptoms. As in winters our body’s immunity against infections and disease dwindles. Peanuts, legumes like chickpeas, lentils and beans, seeds, cashew and eggs are good sources of zinc to include in your winter diet.
Selenium: It is an essential mineral, needed in trace amounts but plays a major role in important functions of our body. This antioxidant helps in lowering the oxidative stress of the body, which reduces inflammation and enhances immunity. Good sources of selenium are brazil nuts, egg, sunflower seeds, fish and shiitake mushrooms.
Copper: A mineral helps in maintaining the healthy bones, nerves, blood vessels and immune function, and contributes to iron absorption as well. Its richest sources include sea foods, organ meats, cashew, pistachio, almond, peanuts, sesame seeds, figs, chickpea, soybean, tofu, navy bean, sweet potato, turnip greens, spinach, beet greens peas, shiitake mushroom, berries, guava and avocado.
Like every season, winter comes with its own sets of health risks such as fever, cold, cough, skin dryness, viral infection, inflammation etc. Therefore, it is required to do changes in your regular diet in winter. Daily requirement of these vitamins and minerals will vary for different individuals depending on their life phase. Remember a healthy immune system is important for everyone to keep themselves disease-free and safe.
Consult a nutritionist for a personalized immune boosting winter meal plan.