Flu, viral infections and other nasty bugs are rampant at the moment and that’s where vitamin C comes into the picture. This incredibly versatile nutrient works to support your immune system by maintaining your production of pathogen-fighting white blood cells, as well as working as a powerful antioxidant to protect your immune cells from damage. However, it isn’t just your immune system that needs a helping hand – winter can be especially tricky if you suffer from circulatory problems or skin conditions like eczema. Fortunately, vitamin C can work to strengthen the walls of your veins, reduce inflammation and boost your production of collagen, an essential protein for healthy skin!
Humans are, unfortunately, unable to synthesise vitamin C so we need to rely on food to get our recommended intake. However, despite this, vitamin C deficiencies are rare and one possible reason for this is that vitamin C can be found in a wide variety of foods, including seasonal foods such as oranges, berries, kale, spinach, broccoli and Brussel sprouts, which are all very popular at this time of year. There are many different recipes on our food hub that utilise these ingredients – my particular favourites are Bethany’s Spiced Roasted Butternut Squash Soup and Ciara’s Easy Spinach and Chickpea Curry!
Nevertheless, if you are worried about getting your daily intake of vitamin C, or feel your immune system needs that extra bit of support, you could try our vitamin C supplement, Nature-C. This chewable tablet is made from the extracts of a range of different fruits, meaning that it’s readily absorbed by your body and, unlike some of our other remedies; it’s suitable for young children over the age of 6.
When it comes to essential vitamins and minerals zinc is, unfortunately, often overlooked. This can cause problems as zinc is important when it comes to supporting your immune system, with some studies finding that taking zinc supplements may reduce the overall length and severity of cold symptoms.1
Impressive, but that’s just scratching the surface! Zinc also works to balance your hormones, is crucial for your blood vessels and even plays a role in the synthesis of protein and the breakdown of carbohydrates. However, that’s not even mentioning how essential the mineral is for healthy vision! Unsurprisingly, zinc deficiencies are associated with a range of symptoms from skin problems such as acne, to poor immune function.
Thankfully, we only need a small amount of zinc each day - between 7-9.5mg. It also helps that this nutrients is readily available in foods such as pumpkin seeds, cashews, eggs, chickpeas and seafood such as oysters and crab which are easy enough to incorporate into a healthy, balanced diet.
Okay, so this is not exactly the most surprising entrant on this list. Similar to vitamin C, vitamin D is often associated with the immune system and with winter in general. This is because, although your body can synthesise vitamin D, it needs one key crucial ingredient – sunlight. Since this is in short supply during the darker winter months, vitamin D deficiencies can become quite common, especially if you have a restricted diet as this nutrient is only available in a few foods.
This can cause all sorts of problems as you need vitamin D to absorb calcium and support bone health. Vitamin D deficiencies have been associated with sleep problems, fatigue, poor immunity and even mood disorders such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). That’s why Public Health England has recommended that, during the winter months, we take a 10mcg supplement of vitamin D.
However, this can be tricky as most vitamin D supplements contain at least twice or sometimes four times this amount which can lead to over-supplementing. It really pays to use gentler supplements – our Balance Mineral Drink, for example, contains 5mcg of vitamin D and can even help to ease symptoms such as fatigue, giving your energy levels a boost.
When the cold sets in and the night grows darker, our immediate reaction is to take shelter in our homes and tuck into seasonal snacks. Stews and stodgier meals are definitely top of mind at this time of year and this, unfortunately, can affect our waistline as we binge on sugary drinks and carb-heavy foods.
That’s why it can help to include more lean sources of protein in our diets. Not only does protein help to support your muscles and joints, it can also help to maintain a healthy immune and nervous system. That’s not all though, it can make you feel fuller for longer, curbing those cravings and keeping your blood sugar levels balanced.
Of course, by protein we don’t just mean eat more turkey or down a protein shake – you can find protein in a range of different foods, from green leafy vegetables like spinach to pulses such as lentils or even soy-based products like tofu or soy milk.
I’ve spoken a little bit about vitamin B12 in my blog ‘You could need more vitamin B12!’ where I discussed how important it is for maintaining your mood and cognitive function. This is even truer in winter as low levels of vitamin B12 have been associated with SAD and other depressive symptoms such as mood swings, low mood, fatigue and memory fog.
The main problem with vitamin B12 is that there aren’t many foods that contain it and those that do are usually derived from animals. This complicates things for vegans and vegetarians and so, this why many rely on supplements. I recommend checking out what's available in your local health food store.
Omega-3 has really grown in the public consciousness in recent years, with most now being well aware of how it can benefit cognitive function and memory but did you also know that omega 3 helps to support your skin, eyes and sleep patterns too? If so, you are definitely not alone but unfortunately, during winter we tend to intake less omega-3. Part of this is simply due to seasonal changes – oily fish, a major source of omega-3, simply aren’t as available during winter.
This depletion of omega-3 can have a number of repercussions – for a start, your skin, which is more vulnerable during winter, needs omega-3 to stay strong and hydrated. It’s also believed that omega-3 could be linked to SAD, with studies showing that omega-3 could be useful when it comes to easing low mood and depression symptoms.2
If you’re looking to increase your intake of omega-3 during winter, you can always turn to plant-based sources such as chia seeds or flaxseeds.
As I’ve mentioned, winter can be a troubling time for your skin. As our Skin Advisor Felicity discusses at length in her blogs, ‘7 ways to banish your winter skin blues’ and ‘Why does my eczema flare-up in winter?’ the combination of the cold from outside and the dry heat from indoors can easily dehydrate your skin, causing it to become more susceptible to irritation.
Vitamin E works to tackle this problem in two ways. Firstly, it helps to moisturise your skin thus preventing dryness and secondly, it has natural antioxidant properties. However, vitamin E isn’t just good for your skin as it can also help your circulation, preventing platelets from sticking to the blood vessel walls. You also use vitamin E to make red blood cells which carry oxygenated blood and nutrients throughout the entire body.
The best way to increase your intake of vitamin E would be by eating more vitamin E-rich foods, such as avocados, broccoli and spinach. Remember though, other food products such as cereals are also fortified with this nutrient.
Okay, so I’ve covered the ‘big 6’ so where exactly does chromium factor into things? Well, as I mentioned earlier, during the winter season, especially if you’re celebrating a holiday, you might be more inclined to tuck into sugary treats and drinks which can have a corresponding effect on your blood sugar levels thus causing them to fluctuate. This in turn can negatively impact your sleep cycle and contribute to cravings and low energy levels throughout the day.
Chromium is believed to help counter this by enhancing the action of insulin, helping to regulate your blood sugar levels more effectively. Of course, the evidence surrounding chromium is divisive so if you do decide to increase your intake of chromium, either through your diet by eating more chromium-rich foods like potatoes, lentils or broccoli, or through a supplement, it might be a good idea to take other measures too.
You can read more about food cravings and how to manage them in my blog, ‘What do your food cravings mean?’