Winter is the time of the year when most of us fall sick which could due to changes in the weather or poor immunity. And one of the key ways to boost immunity and prevent infections during winter is to load up your nutrient intake. Yes, the role of a healthy and nutrient-rich diet in strengthening your immunity and provide quick relief from infections cannot be underestimated. Experts believe that good nutrition can go a long way to prevent infections and also aid in early recovery and fewer health complications.
So to help you pick healthy food choices Dr. Swati Bhushan, Chief Clinical Nutritionist, Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi shares few essential nutrients to include in your diet to boost immunity and stay healthy this winter.
1. Vitamin C: A water-soluble vitamin, Vitamin C is known to be a powerful antioxidant. This vitamin aids in the synthesis of white blood cells, also known as immune cells, which play a key role in fighting off infections. During winter, we are more prone to respiratory infections. But including vitamin C in the diet on a regular basis during winters can help you reduce the severity and duration of cold and manage other respiratory tract infections.
So include foods rich in Vitamin C such as guava, amla, strawberries, papaya, orange, capsicum and amaranth (cholai) in your diet. To reap its benefits, consume these foods in the raw form as salads or lightly saute the veggies as excessive cooking might destroy the nutrients.
2. Zinc: Most of us are unaware of the immune-boosting properties of Zinc. This mineral not only aids in reducing the duration of a common cold but also lower the incidence of diarrhea and respiratory tract infection, especially in kids. Moreover, it is also needed for the production of white blood cells and platelets, which improve overall immunity. So ensure you get your daily dose of zinc to prevent its deficiency and in turn, lower your risk of suffering from an infection.
The list of foods that can help you up your intake of zinc includes pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, peanuts, almonds, soybean, and cashew. These zinc-rich food sources serve best as snacks to help satiate your hunger along with boosting immunity.
3. Vitamin D: During winters, most of us tend to spend time indoors rather than basking in the sun. However, this is not a good idea because lack of Vitamin D can make you more susceptible to infections. Vitamin D not only strengthens your immune system but also prevents mood swings, which are quite common when the temperature falls.
This winter, get the most of the sunshine vitamin by spending some time, especially your mornings, under the sun. You can also get minimal amounts of Vitamin D from dietary sources such as eggs, mackerel, Salmon, sardines and VItamin D-fortified grains, milk and juices.
4. Omega-3 fatty acids: Most people believe that fats are bad for the health. However, our body needs certain amounts of fats for the proper functioning of the brain and other organs. Moreover, certain fats are healthy in nature such as omega-3 fatty acids. These fats improve the activity of the immune cells and also reduce the formation of inflammatory compounds, thus keeping you healthy. Omega-3 fatty acids also help in preventing dry skin, which is a common skin problem during winters.
As omega-3 fatty acids are not produced by the body, you have to be dependant on food sources. The natural sources of these fats are salmon, herring, mackerel, flaxseeds, soybean, sabja seeds, spinach, and walnuts.
5. Vitamin E: The role of Vitamin E in improving your skin tone and preventing premature aging is well-known. However, not many people are aware that this vitamin can help you stay healthy by lowering your risk of infections. Packed with potent antioxidants properties, Vitamin E prevents cell damage caused by harmful free radicals and also reduce inflammation in the body. The deficiency of this vitamin can impair the functioning of the natural killer cells, a type of immune cells, thus affecting your defense system.
To reap the goodness of this Vitamin and up your body’s defense mechanism, include foods rich in Vitamin E in your diet. These include sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachio, and wheat germ.
6. Magnesium: The role of magnesium in boosting your immunity and overall health is often overlooked. It is involved in numerous biochemical processes such as protein synthesis, cell growth, energy production, and defense mechanism. The mineral also helps lower inflammation in the body, which can trigger an infection. It is needed for the production and proper functioning of the immune cells including antibodies, which fight against microbes.
So to ensure healthy gut health and immunity, up your intake of magnesium-rich foods such as bajra, ragi, jowar, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cumin seeds, groundnuts, almonds, moong dal, sesame seeds, and walnuts.
7. Vitamin A: Vitamin A is known to be good for the eyes. But this vitamin can also enhance immunity. It acts as an antioxidant which helps in fighting free radicals and reducing inflammation in the body, which can trigger an infection.
In order to boost your immune function and lower your risk of infections, ensure to include Vitamin A in the diet. The common food sources of Vitamin A include mango, papaya, muskmelon, tomato, carrot, sweet potato, watermelon, and dates.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Lalit Kanodia, General Physician)