Winter is nearly upon us and all this cold weather and darker evenings has most of us thinking about our winter wardrobe, cosy nights in and even preparing for Christmas.

One thing we could all live without is coming down with a cold or flu which makes sticking to our plans and enjoying the festive season hard. How to avoid this? Simply follow our Food Crew expert, Heather Leeson’s top tips for boosting your immune system and keeping colds at bay…


Never underestimate the power of sleep! Lack of sleep can lower your immune system and can even stop vaccines working as well as they should. Try to get seven hours every night if you can. We know this is hard for any parents of small children out there, but try to get some good sleep in when you can. For those young, free and single people out there who are suffering from lack of sleep due to partying, we’re afraid to say that lying in at the weekends doesn’t undo the damage – sorry!


Moderate exercise is great for strengthening our immune system but exercising too hard can actually lower it. Some of you you may find yourself catching a sore throat, cold or virus after an excessive workout. The key is not to over do things, especially if you already feel something brewing.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a really important nutrient for helping to keep our immune system in tip top condition. It’s no surprise that we don’t make enough of this ‘sunshine vitamin’ in Ireland during the winter. Almost half of us of us will have low vitamin D from October through to March so it’s a great idea to take a Vitamin D supplement during these months. Just be careful not to take too much as this can also be harmful. A daily drop of 800-1000IU is good for most people.

Vitamin C

Is the vitamin we all associate with fighting off a cold, but to stave off even getting a cold in the first place, it’s best to keep up good levels all through the winter months. You can do this with a well balanced diet with lots of fruit and veggies. The fruit and veggies most high in Vitamin C are raw red pepper, kiwi fruits and lightly steamed broccoli and cauliflower. Don’t boil them to within an inch of their life because you’ll destroy all the Vitamin C.

If you still find yourself with a cold after all this, take an additional supplement to shorten it or make it pass a bit easier.

Probiotic foods

Good gut bacteria is really important in helping to build a strong immune system. Keep your guts happy with a diverse diet of fruits, veg and food high in fibre such as wholegrains, oats, beans and chickpeas.

Good gut bacteria really like feeding on the resistant starch in ground flaxseed so add this to your favourite breakfast (enriched with lots of fresh fruit or veggies of course!). Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kefir, miso or kimchi (great on the side with a stir-fry) are all gut-healing foods really high in probiotics.

If you do come down with a virus, try to take some time out, get extra sleep and keep eating nourishing foods. Make sure to get some early nights even after you start to feel better; don’t rush back to your exercise regime too quickly and you’ll be on that road to recovery in no time!

If you’d like to watch Heather’s appearance on Virgin One, where she shared her expertise, you can do so by clicking here

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