If you're determined to stay cold- and flu-free this season, there are some simple steps you can take that might help you dodge the bugs. Supporting your immunity isn't just about getting extra vitamins, although it certainly pays to eat lots of fruit and vegetables. There are other foods and actions you can take to give yourself the best chance of feeling fit and healthy over the winter months. So why not bolster your natural defences with our practical and delicious suggestions?


Read on to discover why you should:

  • Eat lots of brightly coloured fruit and vegetables
  • Add garlic and onion
  • Meet your vitamin D needs
  • Eat more oats and barley
  • Include healthy fats
  • Keep your gut healthy
  • Wash your hands
  • Keep active
  • Have a hot and cold shower
  • And get plenty of restorative sleep

Discover how what you eat can support good health, from the health benefits of garlic to the foods with most vitamin C.

1. Eat lots of brightly coloured fruit and vegetables


Vegetables such as sweet potatoes, butternut squash and beetroot are rich in beta-carotene which our bodies convert to vitamin A. We need vitamin A to keep the mucosal linings in our nose and lungs robust enough to defend against infection. Other foods to include are orange and red fruits such as oranges, mango, apricots and melon.

Get inspired with these delicious recipes:

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Spinach, sweet potato & lentil dhal
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Find more healthy sweet potato and healthy squash recipes.

Fruit and vegetables are also often good sources of vitamin C, which may support the immune system. Although vitamin C has long been considered a useful precaution against catching the common cold, and some people insist it can help when you've already succumbed, studies suggest that high doses of vitamin C are most relevant for people exposed to brief periods of intense physical stress such as endurance athletes, or those living in very cold environments.

You can get vitamin C from leafy, dark green vegetables such as chard and spinach, peppers, broccoli, peas, kiwi fruit and citrus fruits.

Try our vitamin-C rich suggestions:

Summer porridge
Spiced pepper pilafs
Feta & clementine lunch bowl
Chickpea, tomato & spinach curry

2. Cook with garlic and onion


This amazing family of vegetables contain potent oils that have an anti-microbial action, so they may help protect against bacterial and viral infections. They also support gut health because they are prebiotic – by promoting the growth of healthy bacteria.

Trials supporting the efficacy of garlic in preventing the common cold have been of poor quality up to this point, so there is little clinical evidence. But, as garlic and onion both have impressive health benefits, they are still worth including in your diet. If you hate garlic breath or that potent aftertaste, look out for fermented black garlic. It has a rich balsamic flavour and is said to be twice as active as regular garlic, without the unfavourable after effects!

Try garlic and onion in these nutrient-packed dishes:

Herb & garlic pork with ratatouille
Pepper-crusted salmon with garlic chickpeas
Mediterranean fish stew with garlic toasts
Caramelised carrots & onions
Healthy French onion soup
Artichoke, red onion & rosemary risotto

3. Get enough vitamin D through sunlight or food


Vitamin D is an important nutrient for overall health and studies have shown that people low in this vital vitamin are at a greater risk of infection. In the winter months, low levels of sunlight mean we need to obtain vitamin D from our diet. However, with only a few food sources to choose from, this can be tricky. Aim to include oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, eggs and mushrooms. Eating a selection of these foods regularly during winter is a useful way to top up your vitamin D levels.

However, because getting adequate amounts is difficult, UK guidelines suggest everyone (including pregnant and breastfeeding women) consider taking a daily supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D during the autumn and winter months.

Get a vitamin D boost with these delicious recipes:

Mushroom baked eggs with squished tomatoes
Salmon & soya bean salad
Baked salmon & eggs
Mushroom & basil omelette with smashed tomato
More healthy salmon recipes
Healthy egg ideas

Discover more about what affects vitamin D levels.

4. Eat more oats and barley


Oats and barley are rich in a water-soluble fibre called beta-glucans, which as well as keeping us full and satisfied, has a valuable immune modulatory effect as it helps increase the number and function of protective immune cells.

Try these gorgeous grain recipes:

Oat & chia porridge with prunes
Homemade muesli with oats, dates and berries
Pink barley porridge with vanilla yogurt
Squash, orange & barley salad
Chicken & pearl barley risotto

Discover more about the health benefits of oats.

5. Include healthy fats

Omega-3 fats are essential for many aspects of health including immune cell production, which is why guidelines recommend we include fish twice per week. At least one portion should be the oily variety, such as mackerel, salmon, sardines and trout. If you are vegetarian or vegan be sure to include plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids like chia seeds, flax seeds and walnuts and, if appropriate, consider a supplement.

6. Keep your gut healthy


We now appreciate that good gut health is critical to staying fit and well. In fact, more than 70% of our immune defences lie along the mucosal lining of our gut, so keeping it in tip top condition is a first line of defence against infection. Including probiotic foods like live yogurt, kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut can help to feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut. If these foods are new to you then introduce them gradually to give your digestive system time to adjust.

Discover more gut health tips and try our recipe suggestions:

Gut-friendly recipes
More digestive health recipes & tips

7. Wash your hands (and clean your phone!)


When cold and flu season hits, it's worth paying attention to your hygiene. If you really want to dodge that cold, be scrupulous – wipe any shared keyboards and phones with an antiseptic wipe before use. Wash your hands frequently and keep them away from your face – especially your mouth and nose.

8. Keep active


Get out into the daylight as much as possible and keep physically active. Moderate exercise can help to support the immune system because it stimulates the production of white blood cells – the cells that defend us from illness. It's worth noting, however, that repeated excessive exercise can diminish the immune response, so stick to moderate levels.

Get inspired with our guides to working out at home and exercising for free.

9. Have a hot and cold shower

It's an unusual tip, but might be worth trying if you're really keen to avoid a cold. One study found that varying the temperature of a daily shower from hot to cold (about every 2-3 minutes) initiates an increase in white blood cell production. If nothing else, it's one way to make sure you're awake first thing in the morning!

10. Get restful sleep

There’s a close link between our immune system response and the quality of our sleep.
Studies have revealed that sleep and our circadian rhythm (the natural sleep/wake cycle) have a strong regulatory effect on the immune system. There’s still more for us to learn in this area, but it is thought that people who work shifts have an increased risk of catching viral infections. Whatever your daily patterns, give yourself the best possible chance of a good night’s sleep by ensuring a comfortable, dark bedroom and take time to relax before you retire for the evening.

Get more useful tips to improve your sleep.

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How to get rid of a cold
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Immune-friendly recipes

A qualified nutritionist (MBANT), Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).


All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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