Immune building nutrition Part one - how to fight off winter bugs

Blog Image for article Immune building nutrition Part one - how to fight off winter bugs

We know how much more susceptible our loved ones are during the winter months. We have little control over being exposed, because life must go on. So, the best we can do is build up our immunities and keep focused on the daily and weekly best habits to protect us and if we do happen to become unwell, help minimise our illness severity. 

Baseline Health

Adequate quality sleep, hydration and daily movement/planned exercise are essential for our bodies to support us in times of need, like virus or bacteria exposure. Daily exposure to any sun available is also vital; for Vitamin D and general wellbeing. These fundamentals are baseline factors for immune health. Diet is next.

Seasonal Eating and Diet

Mother nature tells us what we need during the winter months. The seasonal winter plants, including fruits, vegetables, seeds and herbs, are full of the nutrition we need for immunity boosting and protection during these vulnerable months. 

The other huge benefit about seasonal eating is that it is cheaper! These are the foods in your supermarket or grocer that are cheapest in the fruits and vegetable isles or at least at their cheapest for the year. 

Two of nature’s nutrition focuses for us during winter, are Vitamin C and Polyphenol rich* plants. 

Vitamin A, E, and key minerals are also important of course, but we will just focus on these two for now and cover the rest in our next article

Vitamin C

We hear a lot about Vitamin C, but how much do we know about it? Well, it is an Essential water-soluble vitamin and powerful Antioxidant

  • Essential means we need to eat it, our bodies cannot make it. 
  • Being water soluble means that we have limited storage in our bodies for it, it works in the fluids and outsides of our cells and flushes through us. Hence, we need it daily.
  • Antioxidants are molecules that fight off free radicals that can damage cells. 

Studies have shown that Vitamin C prevents pneumonia and alleviates or prevents infections caused by bacteria, viruses and protozoa**. It has been shown to significantly decrease the severity and duration of the common cold***.

Adults need around 45mg of Vitamin C a day, which is half an orange or a cup of strawberries. It really does not take much to help yourself fend off illness with fresh foods each day. 

Table 1: Australian RDI’s for Vitamin C intake****



Ideally you get your Vitamin C from fresh whole foods, as this also means you are getting the hydration, fibre and other nutrition these foods can provide. Studies have shown more is not better with Vitamin C. 

Plants richest in Vitamin C that are also in season during winter in Australia include:

  • Citrus – lemons, mandarins, oranges, lime, grapefruit 
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Pineapple
  • Asian greens
  • Broccoli/Broccolini
  • Carrot
  • Kale
  • Capsicums
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Chilli



Created by plants, there is an abundance of evidence these bioactive compounds have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antiallergic, antihypertensive and antiviral benefits*****. They are also water soluble.

Plants richest in polyphenols that are also in season/or available in Australia include:

  • Red coloured apples
  • Red onion
  • Red grapes
  • Berries (snap frozen is fine)
  • Cocoa
  • Tea/coffee (adults only)
  • Olives
  • Flaxseeds
  • Cloves, peppermint, star anise
  • Artichokes

There is no recommended intake for polyphenols, however eating a balanced diet rich in plants is going to be helpful for overall health.  

Food Processing and Cooking

The processing or cooking of plants for eating impacts the availability of its nutrition to the body. Because they are water soluble, if plants containing these nutrients are heated (cooked) in water (boiled), the Vitamin C and Polyphenols will leach out into the water. If you must cook, steaming or very lightly blanching in small amounts of water either in a pan or in the microwave are best to retain as much of the nutrition as possible.  

We will cover more on Vitamin E, A, and top minerals for building your immunity in the next article in this series

If you have concerns you or your child is not getting enough of their key nutrients, please see your primary GP or consider our online service for a diet review. 

*Dietary Plant Polyphenols: Effects of Food Processing on Their Content and Bioavailability - PMC (
** Vitamin C and Infections - PubMed (

***  Vitamin C reduces the severity of common colds: a meta-analysis - PubMed (

**** Vitamin C | Eat For Health

***** Polyphenols and their potential role to fight viral diseases: An overview - PMC (

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