As the season of the flu bug approaches (and there’s always a rash of autumn colds when the schools go back) bump up your immunity by paying special attention to your fruit and veg intake. We should be eating at least 5-7 portions a day, and at least 1 portion with every meal (including breakfast). Are you doing that? If not, start – your immune system will be boosted straightaway.

If you do already, but want to protect it further, add another portion wherever you can – start having smoothies for breakfast with fruit and spinach/romaine lettuce (fantastic immune supporters!); extra salad in your sandwich; veg credit and dip snacks; another type of veg at dinner; fruit for dessert. Every little bit helps to build and boost. The more variety, the better too, so get eating the rainbow every day and stay flu-free!

Sometimes the first thing people think about when they want to boost immunity is to pop a pill, and the apparent array of wonder-supplements that allegedly fight off viruses singlehandedly is huge. In actual fact, there are a couple of nutrients, and adaptogenic herbs like ginseng and echinacea, that can have an impact, but as ever, using the right things in the right way is essential if you want to avoid flushing money down the toilet.

For instance, few people realise that it’s not just vitamin C that helps to fight off colds and viruses. Vitamin C’s immune-boosting abilities only work at full strength when paired with zinc (as well as a number of other micro-nutrients). So, buying a vitamin C supplement won’t always work; even taking a vitamin C and zinc combo won’t always work. The magic is in the micro-nutrients and synergistic action that real food bring to the arena.

So, don’t pop a pill, get your fruit and veg every day, and add zinc sources like nuts, seeds, dairy, mushrooms, leafy greens, red meat, lentils and quinoa. Eating your healthcare like this means you get all the necessary micro-nutrients too. Pill popping isn’t the answer; real food is.

Getting your oats daily is another unexpected immune booster. Beta glucans have been studied for their ability to mitigate cancer cell growth and reduce the symptoms of the common cold, as well as reducing LDL cholesterol. So get some beta glucans throughout the cold and flu season – including them regularly will boost your immune system. Great sources include mushrooms (especially shitake, maitake and reishi), oats, and barley. Just remember, porridge is pure carb, so add your protein and healthy fat sources for a balanced breakfast.

In general, brightly coloured, antioxidant-packed fruit and veg, leafy greens, beans, pulses and grains all contribute to the inner army. Ratatouille is a fantastic winter staple to pair with just about anything – check out the recipe in the hub.

Bone broth/stock is another secret weapon, stuffed full of minerals and nutrients. Make soups and casseroles regularly with home made or organic stock (beef, chicken or veg, but meat stock has particular nutrients), and see them as your daily supplement! Try this incredibly easy recipe, and adapt as you wish. 

Immune-Boosting Onion Soup

Thinly slice 3-4 medium or 2 large white onions, season, and soften in a pan with a teaspoon of sugar and a little butter and rapeseed oil (around 15 minutes until opaque, golden and melting) Add a crushed garlic clove or two, a spoonful of flour, and a few sage leaves (or other herbs growing in the garden, or needing to be used; experiment!).

Stir well, cooking for a minute or two to cook out the flour. Add chicken, beef or veg stock (500 mls or so) and cook through for a few more minutes until piping hot. Check seasoning, and serve with accompaniments of your choice (I make cheese toasties with organic parmesan bread and goats’ cheese, sliced into fingers for easy dipping) Most of all, enjoy!