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Eating your way to a better immune system

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Dale Pinnock, aka The Medicinal Chef, has a Masters in Nutritional Medicine and is all about exploring the health-boosting potential in food nutrients. With the dreaded cold and flu season in full swing, he shares his guide to foods that are packed with great immunity-boosters.

Immunity boosting for colds & flu

Dale Pinnock explores the health-boosting potential in food nutrients.
Dale Pinnock explores the health-boosting potential in food nutrients.

There is no ‘cure’ for the common cold, but I firmly believe there is a lot we can do to make ourselves feel better by reducing symptoms, and also by improving our body’s way of dealing with such infections.

Many trials have shown that increasing our intake of zinc-rich foods can improve resilience to infections

Cold and flu viruses attack the upper respiratory tract, such as the nose and throat. When they get into these tissues and start causing mischief, our immune system responds by sending an army of white blood cells to the area to kill the virus.

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It is the immune system trying to control the infection that gives us the symptoms associated with cold and flu.

Improve your immune system

This is a contentious subject, but some foods have shown some positive results in several types of study. Shiitake mushrooms and goji berries contain unique, active sugars called polysaccharides. These have demonstrated some interesting effects on our immune system, and shiitake polysaccharides have been shown to increase the production of white blood cells. The more we can produce during an infection, the better we can deal with it effectively. Our body increases production of white cells during an infection, but shiitake mushrooms may step this up even further.

Shiitake mushrooms.
Shiitake mushrooms.

Goji-berry polysaccharides have shown similar activity, but to date the research is more limited. More needs to be done, but it looks as though they might increase the white blood cell count too.

Zinc can also enhance immune response. White blood cells use zinc to code DNA, which works as an internal control mechanism for the cell, helping it respond to invaders and pathogens. Many trials have shown that increasing our intake of zinc-rich foods can improve resilience to infections, and also the time it takes to recover from infection.

Eat more garlic

Garlic is packed with
Garlic is a potent antiviral.

Garlic is well known as a potent antiviral. Unlike most compounds, which are removed through the kidneys and bowel, the essential oils in garlic cannot be removed this way, and are instead removed through the breath. As they move through the respiratory tract, they can pick off the bugs and viruses lurking there, waiting to cause trouble.

Reduce inflammation

Tissues in the upper respiratory tract become inflamed during colds and flu while the immune system fights  infection. Reducing this inflammation goes a long way towards making us feel more human again.

One of my favourite ingredients when I have a touch of the dreaded man flu is the old faithful ginger! This contains a very powerful anti-inflammatory ingredient, part of the chemistry that gives ginger its powerful spicy aroma, which works by blocking the manufacture of compounds that activate inflammation.

Ginger is spicy with anti-inflammatories.
Ginger is spicy with anti-inflammatories.

Omega-3 fatty acids in foods such as oily fish and flaxseeds are also of great value in helping the body make its own natural anti-inflammatory compounds.

Key ingredients for immunity boosting

Shiitake mushrooms – powerful polysaccharides support immune function

Garlic – antiviral

Ginger – anti-inflammatory

Chillies – decongestant

Blast out the flu with some fiery chilli.
Blast out the flu with some fiery chilli.

Goji berries – likely to support immune function

Sweet potatoes – mild anti-inflammatory

Water, lots of it – beats dehydration from fever that often accompanies colds and flu

Prawns – packed with zinc

Coconut – contains lauric acid, a natural antiviral

This is an edited extract from The Medicinal Chef by Dale Pinnock courtesy of


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