Your best defence against colds and flu this winter could be your food. Keep infections at bay with some of the following options.
By Tanya Kovarsky
Recipe and styling by Anna Monali
Photograph by Mark Green
It is said that prevention is better than cure and, considering there is still no cure for the common cold, perhaps our best line of defence is to build up our immunity so that we don’t succumb to infection. Good news is that one of the most effective ways to prevent colds and flu is by eating health-promoting food that increase the body’s immune function. Why is high immunity such a vital factor? Well, it’s not simply a viral infection in your system that can cause a cold; rather, it’s your body’s susceptibility to that virus in the first place that matters. So, the logical starting point would be to keep your body healthy and your immunity high. Essentially, a diet that has a healthy balance of lean protein, low-fat food, essential fats (those found in nuts and seeds), water and antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables is good for maximum immunity, but a few super nutrients, as listed below, can help to bolster it.
Food rich in Vitamin C
Vitamin C is regarded as the best weapon against infection as it allows the body’s white blood cells to destroy some viruses. It has also been shown to clear chest infections as well as shorten the life of a cold. As the body can’t store vitamin C, it needs a daily dose. Opt for about 4 000mg a day, and more if you’re suffering from a cold. Though oranges (about 50mg per 100g) are perceived as the best sources of vitamin C, they are in fact superseded in content by broccoli (about 110mg per 100g), peppers, guavas, lemons, kiwi fruit, blueberries, watermelon, cauliflower, tomatoes, cabbage and strawberries.
Food rich in Vitamin A
Vitamin A (retinal and beta-carotene) is another antioxidant that stimulates immune function and helps the body to fight infection. Try to get 6 000iu a day. Good beta-carotene sources include carrots (28,125iu per 100g), pumpkin, beetroot, sweet potato, butternut, broccoli, spinach and yellow peaches.
Food rich in zinc
Zinc plays an important part in maintaining a healthy immune system because it activates the body’s T-cells, which fight infection. Try to get about 15mg a day. Good sources include oysters (148,7mg per 100g), ginger root, lamb, pecan nuts, dry split peas, brazil nuts, wholegrains and egg yolk.
Food rich in fatty acids
Essential fats – omega-3 and omega- 6 – reduce the risk of infections. Sources of omega-6 are seeds and their oils, and a good daily dosage is one or two tablespoons of oil a day, or two to three tablespoons of seeds. Omega-3 is found in oily fish, and flax, pumpkin and hemp oil. Opt for at least two or three servings of fish per week.
Garlic contains three powerful compounds that help the body to prevent and fight infections. Often dubbed a “superfood”, garlic can assist your body to beat bacterial, viral and even fungal infections. Have a clove or capsule a day, and more if you’re fighting an infection.
Yoghurt that contains probiotics (active bacterial cultures) helps to keep the gastrointestinal tract healthier and can stimulate the immune system to beat infections. Try to consume one cup of yoghurt a day that contains the active culture L.acidophilus.
And if the flu hits…
If you do get a cold, consume chillies, which can help to alleviate cold symptoms by clearing runny noses or bringing on a sweat. And yes, the Jewish remedy of chicken soup is worth trying; it’s a good source of protein and minerals, and is easily digested. It can also help to soothe the throat and unclog nasal passages. Ginger is also believed to ease colds, by relieving nausea and opening up nasal passages.
Avoid mucous-forming food such as dairy products, eggs and too much meat, as well as an excessive amount of simple sugars and saturated fat, which can weaken the immune system. Drink a mixture of 10ml apple cider and 60ml honey to relieve pain in the joints of your body.
Boil 250ml hot water and add 5ml fenugreek seeds, which are quite a strong antiseptic. Let it stand for a few minutes and strain. Add a little lemon and honey. This will help to clear a post-nasal drip and aid perspiration during a fever.
Flu-fighting food ideas
• Add some fresh garlic to your stir-fry or pasta sauce. Remember to add it to dishes at the last minute as cooking can destroy a lot of its nutritional value.
• Try a fruit salad with any vitamin C-rich fruit and top with probiotic yoghurt and seeds or nuts, or blitz it in the blender for a smoothie.
• For dressings, try some of the lesser-used omega-6-rich oils such as hemp, pumpkin, safflower, sesame, walnut and corn.
Spinach, broccoli and peanut stir-fry
- 300g Chinese instant egg noodles
- 30ml sesame oil
- 1 green pepper, seeded and julienned
- 125g tenderstem broccoli, sliced
- 100g baby spinach, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 20ml fresh ginger, finely chopped
- zest of 1 lemon
- 50ml soy sauce
- 50g raw peanuts, crushed, plus extra to serve
Place the noodles in a deep bowl and cover with hot water. Set aside until the noodles are soft, about 20 minutes. Drain.
Heat the sesame oil in a wok or a deep frying pan. Add the pepper, broccoli and spinach and stir-fry until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, ginger and zest.
Add the soy sauce and peanuts and stir-fry for a further 2 minutes.
Toss in the noodles to combine well. Serve with extra peanuts while still hot.
This tasty flu-fighting meal has a combination of vitamin C, “good” fats, the “superfood” garlic and the ancient cold-busting remedy of ginger. To good health!