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Nutritionist Effie Parnell-Hopkinson chats about how seasonal eating can boost your immune system and low mood this winter.
Dark mornings, dark nights and freezing temperatures – yep, winter has definitely arrived and just to add the icing to the Christmas cake, so has the influx of colds, the flu and mood swings.
For most people this time of the year is spent getting ready for the festivities and planning for the New Year and unfortunately, thinking about our health is often an afterthought. During the winter months not only are we more susceptible to colds and the flu, we can also experience a case of the ‘winter blues’. This increased feeling of ‘bleh’, brought on by the change in weather is characterised by dips in mood, energy and can end up with us staying inside eating our way through the chocolate box we bought for the in-laws…! But never fear, there are ways we can combat all of these symptoms so you can fully enjoy the festivities whilst feeling your best!
One of the best ways to combat winter illness is to improve your diet - don’t worry I’m not going to tell you to put the mince pies down! Instead, I am going to go through how choosing seasonal produce may help reduce your chances of catching a cold, improve your health, and even be beneficial to the environment.
While no single food alone will boost your immune system, poor nutrition can have a negative effect on your body’s abilities to fight colds. Increasing your consumption of seasonal fruit and vegetables along with a balanced diet (and no, I don’t mean a mince pie in each hand) can improve overall health.
The addition of seasonal fruit and vegetables supplies essential vitamins and minerals to the diet and are sources of phytochemicals that function as antioxidants, phytoestrogens and anti-inflammatory agents. From December to February, the seasonal produce in the United Kingdom includes apples, beetroots, brussels sprouts, carrots, chestnuts, cranberries, kale, leeks, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, pears and squash. All of these fruits and vegetables have immune-boosting properties as they are abundant in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre.
Focusing on eating at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day will boost your fibre intake as well as help you benefit from an increase in satiety for a lower calorie intake. People who eat higher quantities of fruits and non-starchy vegetables are able to lose and maintain a healthy body weight longer term, which is as good an excuse as any to get those veggies in!
In fact, pears and apples are two of the best fruit sources of fibre, as well as providing an abundance of vitamins, cold-fighting antioxidants and flavonoids. Brussels sprouts and butternut squash are two other winter vegetables high in vitamins, fibre and in particular potassium. As butternut squash is high in potassium and beetroots are loaded with inorganic nitrates, both aid in lowering and preventing high blood pressure. Root vegetables, in particular, are low in calories, high in antioxidants and contain high concentrations of vitamin C, B and A. These vitamins help the body’s immune system by reducing inflammation
• It is more cost effective to buy in season as the food doesn’t take as many resources to produce.
• Buying from local farmers at farmers markets means you are supporting local businesses and the food is often tastier!
• Foods that are in season offer a higher nutritional value than those that are out of season as there has been less time from harvesting to the point of purchase.
• Buying local, organic and seasonally grown food reduces your carbon footprint.
The UK currently imports around 40% of its food. By switching to a diet of food produced entirely in the UK you could reduce your food footprint by 57%. Now obviously, this is a massive lifestyle shift but any changes no matter how small will not only help protect you against illness, but will help protect our planet too.
To summarise, it is really important to take care of our physical and mental health during the winter months as we are particularly susceptible to colds, the flu and feeling down. By strengthening our bodies from the inside with a diet full of vitamins and minerals through eating plenty fruits and vegetables, we can combat these illnesses and simultaneously improve our health, wellness and our relationship with the planet.