ONE 6 • Bon Appétit: Healthy Cooking for the Immune System

Bon Appétit: Healthy Cooking for the Immune System

Food writer and broadcaster Nell Nelson is a practicing nutritional therapist based in Edinburgh. In this issue Nell begins a regular look at the world of food and offers ONE readers her own perspective on healthy eating and better living.


As the clocks go back at the end of this/next month, it is all too tempting to go into hibernation mode; turn up the central heating, close the windows, put the kettle on and reach for the biscuit packet and hunker down for spring. But if you don’t want to spend a winter snuffling, sniffing and piling on the pounds, now is the time to take charge and boost your immune system for what’s ahead. Colds and flu are more common during cold weather, but it’s not the weather itself which causes the coughs and the runny noses, it’s more likely that the cold weather drives everyone inside, increasing person to person contact which spreads viruses. The cold also makes people less active so it is harder to get motivated to exercise. It is these factors that weaken the immune system in the winter, making the body more susceptible to illnesses.

The Immune System

Your immune system is under siege all the time and by keeping it strong you can fight off most illnesses or bounce back quicker. The immune system is different from other systems in the body in that it is not a group of physical structures but a system of complex interactions involving many different organs, structures and substances — such as white blood cells, bone marrow, lymphatic vessels which all work together to protect the body from disease and infection. Poor diet and stress are the biggest attacker of our immune system. Stress produces the hormone cortisol, which in turn weakens the white blood cells’ ability to fight viruses. But it is all too easy to say “don’t get stressed”, which can only make you more stressed! Exercise reduces stress through boosting circulation and flow of lymph fluid and elevates your mood, so good to do some exercise which raises the heart rate every day.

Eat Your Way to Health

A manageable way to try and boost the immune system is through diet. Your immune system needs nutrients, especially vitamins. Vitamin C is probably the single most important vitamin for the immune system as it is essential for the producing of lymphocytes which help develop the body’s own antibodies. Foods rich in vitamin C are all citrus fruits and very appropriately for this time of year squash, pumpkin and broccoli. You can roast pumpkin and squash in the oven, with a little olive oil or steam lightly. I love broccoli steamed then tossed in a mix of chill flakes and Tamari sauce — see recipe on next page. Vitamin E interacts with vitamin A and C and acts as a scavenger destroying free radicals. Foods rich in vitamin E are all nuts and seeds, eggs, wholegrains such as oats, rye and brown rice. Zinc boosts the immune system and promotes wound healing. This is the time of year when shellfish is at its best, so fill up on mussels ( steam with a little wine, chopped onion and parsley) oysters, cashew nuts and pumpkin seeds. Support your immune system by avoiding processed foods, sugar, fizzy drinks and too many animal products. Instead substitute fresh fruits and vegetables — apples and plums are still good seasonal picks. Mushrooms, kale, runner beans, beetroot, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, parsnips, onions, watercress are all in season now. Omega oils increase the activity of phagocytes, the white blood cells that eat up bacteria, so try and include oily fish such as herring and salmon in your diet . Hot foods such as chilli peppers, hot mustard, radishes, pepper, onions, and garlic contain substances called “mucolytics” (similar to over-the-counter expectorant cough syrups) that liquefy thick mucus that accumulates in the sinuses and breathing passages, so don’t hold back on the chilli or the garlic!


Immune System Booster: Broccoli Drizzled With Honey, Chilli And Sesame Sauce

This is a fantastic way to enjoy broccoli — even if you think you don’t like it, try this speedy and delicious recipe — which is rich in vitamins C, E, fibre, omega oils and of course some mucolytic chilli.

350g broccoli, cut into
bite-size florets

2 tbsp omega 3,6,9 oil

1 tbsp honey

1 tsp Tamari sauce — a wheat free version of soy sauce

1 small red chilli with seeds removed and finely chopped

1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Cook the broccoli in boiling water for 3 minutes. In a small bowl, mix together the rest of the ingredients except for the sesame seeds. Drain the broccoli and place in a bowl, drizzle the dressing while still warm and sprinkle sesame seeds on top.

Nutrition can play a large part in boosting the immune system, but also in weight management, skin disorders, digestion, allergies, stress, PMS and depression. It is also worth seeing a nutritonal therapist for an MOT to make sure you are eating as best you can for your lifestyle.

Nell is a nutritonal therapist at Neal’s Yard Remedies, 102 Hanover Street, Edinburgh EH3. A consultation is £60 per which includes your own personal recipe book. Consultations can also be made through an email questionnaire.

Nell Nelson Nutrition, BANT (British Association of Nutritional Therapists)