Keep Your Winter Cold and Flu-Free

by Fanny Vandenhende, Naturopath N.D.

The Immune System: Health’s #1 Guardian

The human body is programmed to defend against pathogens, like germs and cancer cells, through an army of soldiers: the immune system cells. Their job is to detect and kill anything that the body perceives as a threat to its equilibrium.

In winter, it’s only natural that we spend more time in confined spaces, seeking shelter from the bitter cold, all the while increasing the risk of exposure to viruses and bacteria. When our immune system is weakened, germs can quickly and easily take over, with the result being that we are forced to spend a good portion of the winter sick, preventing us from enjoying all the wonders this beautiful season has to offer! 

A number of factors play an important role in the health of our immune system. The most common are food, hydration, sleep, exercise, stress management, quality of human relationships, and smoking. You get the message: certain lifestyle habits have a big impact on the way our bodies deal with disease. So, to spend your winter in top shape and to avoid recurring colds, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Your Diet Is Your First Line of Defence

From Hippocrates through Jesus Christ, naturopaths recognize the importance of the relationship between what we eat and our health. Poor eating habits can compromise immunity and expose us to fatigue and viruses.

A varied and balanced diet is the ticket to good health. And, since health is synonymous with immunity, good nutrition habits are the key to a bright and healthy winter.

Top 5 “Shields for Winter

1) Amino acids

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and form the skeleton of immune cells. Therefore, it is necessary to consume enough protein with each meal, about 0.8 g/kg of body weight per day for a sedentary person. Unlike foods derived from animals, plants do not possess the full range of amino acids to form a complete protein. Luckily, when plant proteins are combined (e.g. legumes eaten with nuts or grains), they create a complete protein. 

2) Vitamin E

Our immune cells need vitamin E to protect against harmful free radicals. It is also essential to the health of our skin, which is one of the largest protective barriers for the immune system. Nuts like almonds, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, and Brazil nuts are especially rich in Vitamin E, so try and consume a handful a day.

3) Zinc

This mineral is absolutely essential to the immune system. It strengthens our defences and is said to shorten the duration of colds. Zinc is found in dark chocolate, eggs, cashew nuts, lentils, etc.

4) Vitamin C

Vitamin C is highly concentrated in white blood cells, which work to capture and destroy germs. It plays an essential role in the fight against infections. To get a beneficial amount of Vitamin C from your diet, eat a variety of brightly-coloured fruits and vegetables, either raw or very lightly cooked. 

5) Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays a key role in the activation of white blood cells and helps fight against seasonal affective disorder, or S.A.D. Its absorption and utilization by the body tends to decrease with age, so it is necessary to keep the tank full.During the winter, try to spend at least 15-20 minutes a day in the sun and consume, at least two to three times per week, plant-based milks fortified with vitamin D. In some cases, taking a vitamin D supplement is recommended, especially if your diet is dairy and meat free.


Some “superfoods”  are key allies in illness prevention.

      • Often called “nature's antibiotic”, garlic has antiviral, antimicrobial, anti-parasitic, and anti-fungal powers. When raw or lightly steamed, these properties have the greatest effect.
      • Shiitake mushrooms stimulate the immune system. In a recent study among young adults, it was shown that the immune system is activated immediately after eating shiitake mushrooms. They also have anti-inflammatory properties in addition to being an outstanding antioxidant.
      • Used especially in traditional Chinese medicine, astragalus is an incomparable ally of the immune system. The root of this plant is used to nourish the body when it experiences fatigue. It supports the immune cells by increasing their activity and antibody production. It can be taken all winter to strengthen defences.

The Intestine: Immunity Central

When we think of the intestine, we think of the digestion and absorption of nutrients, but what you might not know is that it is our main shield of defence against pathogens, as well as the border between our bodies and the outside world.In the 300 square metres of the body’s intestinal mucosa live 80% of the immune cells that systematically sort and eliminate pathogenic micro-organisms. 

To enhance intestinal health and prevent the onset of digestive diseases, regular consumption of fermented foods, called prebiotics, provide the fuel necessary for the proliferation of our immune cells. Prebiotics are especially present in bananas, garlic, chicory drinks, onion, garlic, and artichokes.

If you really want a boost when it comes to intestinal health, consider consuming probiotics, which increase the amount healthy bacteria in our bodies. The more good bacteria you have in your intestines, the more allies you have in the fight against pathogenic bacteria.

      • Sauerkraut* (the arrival of cold weather makes it the perfect time to eat it). Be sure to choose unsterilized sauerkraut (sterilization kills bacteria), or, better yet, make it yourself!
      • Kimchi* – fermented Korean cabbage, traditionally spicy.
      • Miso – fermented soybean paste with salty taste, traditionally mixed into Asian soups.
      • Tempeh – made of fermented soybeans, it’s delicious in stir-fries or soups and is a good source of vegetable protein. You can find it in the freezer section of natural grocery stores.
      • Lacto-fermented* vegetables – carrots, red cabbage, radishes, etc. They will add some colour and spice to your winter salads!

 * 2 to 3 tablespoons of these foods per day are more than enough to see a surging wave of probiotics in your intestines. It is preferable to eat them before a meal.

Recipe: astragalus soup with miso, shiitake, and garlic

      1. Boil 60g of astragalus root in two litres of water and simmer for an hour.
      2. Remove the roots and keep only the resulting broth.
      3. Wash and slice four good handfuls of shiitake mushrooms. Add them to the broth with one grated clove of garlic and two tablespoons of miso paste. 
      4. Add salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste.
      5. To make the broth heartier, add rice noodles and tempeh.

 Note: The shiitake mushrooms found in grocery stores are usually dried, so soak them beforehand according to the directions on the package.

Note: Always speak with a healthcare professional before taking supplements.

Fanny Vandenhende, Naturopath N.D.
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Fanny Vandenhende, Naturopath N.D.

Fanny Vandenhende, naturopath ND, is passionate about naturopathy, an alternative medicine that aims to restore health through natural methods. A graduate of ÉESNQ (École d’enseignement supérieur de naturopathie du Québec), she is currently continuing her training and also practicing at the Clinique Mille Mains, found in the Montreal neighbourhood of Villeray.


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