IT’S that time of year again when coughs and sneezes spread diseases. Upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) are common in parts of the body involved in breathing such as sinuses, throat, airways or lungs.

Things you can do in your diet to help reduce the likelihood and/or severity of URTIs include vitamins, minerals, macronutrients, synbiotics and honey. Vitamins (A, B6, B9, B12, C, D) and minerals (copper, iron, selenium and zinc) are important in the efficient functioning of the immune system to ward off threats and these can be found in carrots, pistachios, broccoli, dairy/plant soya milks, oranges, dark chocolate, beef, spinach, sunflower seeds, chicken, and tofu.  

Children and adults are advised to take a vitamin D3 supplement of 10ug daily from September to sApril on the island of Ireland.  Certain fruit (apricots, banana and watermelon) and vegetables (asparagus, leek and onions) contain a type of prebiotic fibre that feeds our ‘friendly’ gut bacteria (which help our immune system do its job effectively). 

Dairy drinks (Actimel, Kefir, Yakult and so on), plant-based yoghurts and drinks (Alpro, Coconut Collaborative and Biomel) contain friendly probiotic gut bacteria which provide a boost to our guts.  Pre and probiotics together are called synbiotics.  There is good evidence of probiotics protecting against URTI’s.  

Fat is also important for the immune system as our bodies need it to absorb immune functioning vitamins (A and D).  Most fats should come from mono- and poly-unsaturates, which can be found in avocados, fish, nuts, seeds and small portions of some oils, like olive oil. 

Protein is considered another fuel for the immune system with good sources including meat, fish, eggs, soya, mycoprotein (Quorn) and pulses like beans.  Honey is an interesting one for helping relieve coughs and seems to have a soothing effect on a sore throat due to its antiviral properties.  Warm honey and lemon is soothing and pleasant and the effect on a sore throat can be comforting.  

•Lee McCusker (BA; MSc; MSc; MSc; ANutr; SENr) is a registered nutritionist from Belfast and can be found on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  Email: attentivenutrition