It was with great excitement that I received an email last week from the General Manager of catering, hospitality and reception services at Standard Chartered Bank (@StanChart) asking if I would like to return to the bank to do a display during their Health & Safety week (I was up there in the summer providing general healthy eating advice during their Health & Wellbeing week). Of course, the answer was yes, promptly followed by numerous thoughts on what I might discuss during my afternoon there. What is written below is the outcome of my thought process…
As we settle into what can only be described as a rather glorious autumn, I know that this mild weather and warm sunshine probably has no intention of sticking around for too much longer (big sigh). Soon, the cold, crisp air of winter will be upon us, as will the craziness that accompanies the run up to the festive celebrations (not that this is all bad; as a Christmas mega fan it is taking all my might not to start playing my Christmas album during excursions in my car..). However, this change in weather, in conjunction with the busyness of the next few months, means that our bodies need all the help they can get to keep us firing on all cylinders.
It is probably of no surprise to you when I say that what we eat has a significant impact on the ability of our bodies to keep our batteries charged and to fight off unwanted bugs. I have discussed in previous blogs, the foods to focus on in order to keep our energy levels on an even keel, so I am therefore going to focus on what we should be eating to keep those sniffles at bay.
In terms of immune health, eating a balanced diet is crucial but there are probably four key nutrients that deserve that little bit of extra attention.
1. Vitamin C
All fruit, but especially blueberries, kiwis, oranges and papaya, as well as green vegetables such as cabbage, kale, broccoli, sprouts and brightly coloured vegetables such as red peppers contain excellent levels of vitamin C and antioxidants. Vitamin C is an important vitamin in helping our white blood cells fight infection whilst antioxidants can help unwanted changes from happening within our cells. The key thing to remember here is that vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin so boiling your vegetables means that the water you boiled them in will be getting all their benefits, not you. My advice is to invest in a steamer (or a colander perched on top of a pan will do!) and only cook until al dente.
Vegetables such as carrots, pumpkin, butternut squash and sweet potato all contain beta-carotene, which is the pre-curser to vitamin A. Vitamin A plays an essential role in combating infections and maintaining our mucosal surfaces (surfaces found with our body i.e. in our respiratory and digestive tract, that acts as a barrier/filter keeping unwanted bugs out) Luckily autumn is the perfect time to enjoy these foods, so get recipe searching!
Shellfish, beef and lamb, nuts and wholegrain products (i.e. brown bread/rice/pasta) all contain zinc – an essential mineral in helping the cells of our immune system stay in top form. Unfortunately however, wholegrain products contain phytates which bind to zinc and inhibit its absorption. That being said these wholegrain products still do make an important contribution to our daily zinc intake so make sure lunchtime sandwiches are on wholegrain bread!
Selenium is essential for the efficient and effective operation of many aspects of the immune system. Brazil nuts are fabulous sources of this mineral and should make a way into your daily diet immediately. Yes, they are high in fat but the fat is of the good kind (i.e. is protective towards your cardio-vascular system) so as with all things moderation is key. I have three every morning with my breakfast but why not try crumbling some into your porridge or adding to breadcrumbs and using to top a stuffed mushroom.
So embrace the above and be ready to enjoy a winter that is far less likely to leave you looking like Rudolph the red nosed reindeer….!