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Ulster dietitian offers top tips to boost your immune system this winter

Posted on 18/01/2018 by

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We are well and truly in flu and cold season but Gillian Killiner says there’s plenty you can do to stave off the annual winter bugs 

Why is immunity lower in winter? 

Don't let coughs and colds bug you this winter There are various reasons why our immunity is lower at this time of year. The temperature drops and, so we turn up the heat and stay indoors. Bacteria thrive in our heated/enclosed environments, allowing more germs breeding, so much easier to catch a cold or flu. With less sunlight our vitamin D stores drop too with it no longer being available for its protective effect. 

Our bodies also need an increase in vitamin C, so we need to stay topped up daily as Vitamin C is water soluble and is not stored in the body. However be careful if considering a Vitamin C supplement. Ascorbic acid is not as good as one may think due to its longer term negative effect on copper metabolism. 

Can I do anything to boost my immune system? 

Thankfully, yes! To keep a strong and balanced immune system to stay healthy and avoid infections this winter, follow these tips: Give your immune system a real fighting chance this winter by being mindful of your intake of vitamins A, C, D and E, as well as minerals selenium and zinc and Omega 3s. The best way to do this is to eat whole foods, such as quality animal protein, whole grains, nuts and seeds and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. 

The darker days and colder weather often comes with a desire to comfort eat but we recommend avoiding processed meats, fried foods, soft drinks and processed baked goods, as consuming too much of these can suppress the immune system and cause low-level inflammation. 

Getting more vitamin C is easier than you might think. Upping you intake of fresh fruit and vegetables is the most convenient way to do so, opting for good sources such as berries, citrus, kiwi, bell peppers, and dark green vegetables. 

Boost immunity by adding herbs and spices while cooking. Onions, garlic, ginger, black peppercorn, cayenne pepper, allspice, curry and turmeric are great! While hot drinks might be your preference, don’t neglect fresh water. Water helps in the production of lymph, which carries white blood cells and other immune system cells. So make sure you get your recommended two litres per day. 

Watch alcohol intake as it can depress the nervous system, inhibit the bone marrow’s ability to regenerate blood cells, is toxic to the liver, depletes B-vitamins, and is dehydrating. Why not try Dry February!! Sleep is king. 

The body rejuvenates and strengthens when it’s sleeping so aim for 7 to 8 hours at night. Plus, you’ll also feel more revived the next day. Try to include as many of the golden hours of sleep 10pm-2am. 


Winter is the perfect season for porridge. There’s nothing quite like kick starting your day with a warm bowlful on a cold morning and it also helps boost your intake of starchy foods and fibre. Plus, with porridge helping you feel fuller for longer, it will curb your temptation to snack on unhealthy foods. You’ll get extra bonus points if you top with fresh fruit or nuts. If you like it sweet, swap the sugar for cinnamon. 

Stay active and exercise: Not only will you improve your fitness, exercise boosts immunity and improves sleep quality. As little as a 30 minute brisk walk each day has positive effects. 

Vitamin D stores drop in winter so catching some rays when you can is essential. Vitamin D strengthens our immune system so getting outside when you can is important. For dietary intake, boost immunity with fatty fish and if deficient you should ensure you seek advice as high dose supplements are not always to answer. 

In addition, chronic stress and depression can weaken the immune system, which in turn makes our bodies more vulnerable to illness, it’s important to take part in activities which lower your stress levels, so make sure you have some fun this winter. There are, as always, many more nutritional additions or changes that may be specific to you. 

These are only a snapshot. If you need assistance with optimising your health or have a specific illness, then please contact us and we would be delighted to help you stay tip-top. Gillian Killiner BSc. (Hons) MSc. RD founder and director of 121 Dietitian an award winning Nutritional Consultancy Clinic. 

Clinics are based in Bannatyne Health Club Belfast. 

Call: 07717392306 Email: Web:

Source: Newsletter