As Autumn settles in and the nights get darker our health can take a bit of a downturn. Earlier this year, The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommended that honey and over-the-counter medications should be used for coughs and colds before turning to our GP to ask for an antibiotic.

The common cold is caused by over 200 viruses that can affect our upper respiratory tract. As antibiotics work against bacteria, rather than viruses, they will be ineffective at treating colds and flus.

As with most things, prevention is better than cure, so looking after ourselves with healthy food, regular exercise and rest could be our best armoury for winter wellness.

A hot drink of honey with lemon and ginger is well known to help soothe coughs and sore throats, but there are other foods that could help support our immune system too.

:: Nutritional First Aid

Pack as many different coloured fruits and vegetables into your diet as possible. Packed with antioxidant nutrients to help support the immune system, the more colour on our plates, the better.

Keep well hydrated. In colder weather it can be more difficult to remember to drink enough water. Adequate hydration is important for immune support, not to mention helping with energy levels.

Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties. Garlic and onions have immune balancing effects and contain an active ingredient called allicin, which has been found to have anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties.

For best effects, add garlic towards the end of cooking, or eat raw as allicin can be inactivated by cooking at high temperatures.

Build up immune defences by adding some cultured or fermented foods into your diet. Packed with ‘good bacteria’, also known as probiotics, these foods are a vital part of immune defence. Kimchi, sauerkraut, live yoghurt and kombucha are all worth a try.

Getting enough sleep will help if you get hit with a cold. Go to bed early and aim for eight to 10 hours rest to strengthen your immune system.

:: Supplements and remedies

There are a few nutritional and herbal supplements that could be useful to help keep us healthy during winter months.

:: Echinacea – well known for its effects on the immune system, echinacea is a traditional herbal remedy for colds and flu. It helps the body fight cold and flu symptoms of by supporting the immune system and helping to maintain the body’s resistance.

:: Elderberry is a tasty addition to your nutritional first aid cupboard. Available as a hot drink, syrup or capsules, elderberry seems to have activity against viruses like the flu, and might reduce inflammation. Some studies have also shown it could help us get over colds a bit quicker too.

:: Vitamin D – deficiency in vitamin C is associated with increasing our susceptibility to infections. Studies show that roughly one in five of us are low in vitamin D and could do well to supplement our diet with this essential vitamin. The main source of vitamin D is the action of sun on our skin and it is difficult to get enough from diet alone, so you can see why living in this part of the world could be a risk factor!

:: Vitamin C – a well known immune supporting nutrient, vitamin C has been found to help the immune system and boost white blood cells. Taken as a supplement in combination with zinc, high doses of vitamin C has been found to reduce the duration of the common cold. Studies used 1000mg vitamin C combined with 10mg zinc.

:: TIP OF THE WEEK: Consider the power of the food on your plate. The more variety we can eat the better, so pack your plate with foods to help support your immune system like green leafy vegetables, orange coloured fruit and vegetables, onions, garlic, turmeric, ginger and eat your way to a winter of good health.

This blog post first appeared as an article in The Irish News on Saturday 20 October 2018.