Let food be thy medicine

We were pretty lucky with our long warm autumn, but winter has hit surprisingly hard and fast across Aotearoa and with it inevitably comes sniffles, colds and for some of us unlucky folk, the flu.

However, ensuring our immune system is strong and ready for the season ahead may reduce the number of winter ails we get, or if the dreaded lurgy hits, it could contribute to a speedy recovery.

Grandma didn’t get it that wrong with all her kitchen remedies, the right foods will support your immune system for the battle ahead. So what should we have in our food remedy pantry? Here’s a list of science-supported foods that can help boost your immune system and defend against those nasty bugs.

Think beyond vitamin C, think ACE, which are vitamins A, C and E. These are all antioxidants, they’re your army that protect against excess free radicals to protect cells, prevent illness, and reduce inflammation. But we’re talking food here, so what are we looking at:

Vitamin A

Order up that lambs’ fry (liver) next time you’re eating out as it’s full of vitamin A, so are dairy products, eggs and oily fish.

Vitamin C

There’s the obvious fruits such as citrus and kiwifruit. But the king of vitamin C is definitely capsicum and also leafy greens such as spinach, as well as broccoli, tomatoes, potatoes and kumara.

Vitamin E

Kumara gets the tick again as do nuts and seeds and smashed on toast as an all-time favourite, avocados. Also polyunsaturated oils - canola, corn, sunflower and try a sprinkle of wheatgerm on your cereal.  

Iron, Zinc, and Vitamin B6

Then there’s the all-important iron, zinc and vitamin B6 and the best way to absorb these is not as supplements, but through the foods we eat.

Not surprisingly the best source of easily absorbed haem-iron is found in red meat such as beef and lamb, with another Kiwi favourite, mussels also a rich source. Add some of those vitamin C-rich foods for a winning combo to boost iron absorption.

The best sources for zinc are also found in lean beef and lamb as well as seafood. Chickpeas, pumpkin seeds and milk also provide this mineral.

Finally vitamin B6 is found in beef, lamb, fish and poultry, eggs, and whole-grains.

It’s all surprisingly starting to sound like a balanced diet of whole, natural foods - now there’s something to channel our immune strong meals on. But we agree with grandma, soups and casseroles can sometimes provide nearly all of the above in one package and there’s nothing better than coming home at the end of the day to dinner bubbling away in the slow cooker. Finish off the meal with a kiwifruit or citrus fruit and you’ll be kicking those winter bugs in the pants!

Here’s a collection of our favourite immunity-boosting recipes