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When your body doesn't have the right fuel, you are more susceptible to infections. Good nutrition is the key to keeping you cold- and flu-free.

You encounter pathogens every day, but your body is naturally very effective at identifying and killing off anything that poses a threat to our internal ecosystem. Follow these five steps to support your immunity this winter.

Love your guts

Your digestive system houses 70 percent of your body's immune cells, so if is out of balance its ability to manufacture and maintain those cells will be compromised. Eating fermented foods daily will supply you with the probiotics needed to ensure your gut maintains a healthy microbiome. Until recently, our typical Western diet featured few of these foods, many of which boast centuries-old usage – thankfully, they are making a welcome come-back. Kombucha, a fermented tea first seen in healthfood stores and organic cafes, is now appearing in supermarkets; so too are good old sauerkraut, the staple accompaniment to Korean cuisine, kimchi, and the traditional Turkish yoghurt-based drink, kefir. Eating foods supplying prebiotic fibre – asparagus, chicory root, onions, artichokes, and dandelion greens – will feed the good bacteria and help them colonise in your gut, rather than pass through.

Pick a stinking rose

That's the old nickname for garlic, by the way! Raw garlic, as opposed to cooked, has powerful antibiotic, antiviral, and anti-parasitic properties, and is widely documented as helping to avert the common cold as well as to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. The easiest way to add raw garlic to your diet is to stir it into dips – hummus, beetroot, or pesto. If you do add it to cooked food, add it at the end rather than at the beginning, to preserve its immune-boosting prowess.

Iron up

Iron deficiency is extremely common, especially in women. This mineral is well-known for its role in preventing anaemia, but it is also vital for the building of immune cells, and people who are iron-deficient are more likely to suffer from frequent infections, and to take longer to recover from them, than those with optimal iron levels.

Think zinc

Zinc has been shown in clinical studies to reduce the frequency and duration of the common cold. Zinc deficiency is also very common, in both men and women, due to the low zinc content of a typical Western diet. Good sources include red meat, oysters, and pumpkin seeds; however, plant-based sources of zinc are usually poorly absorbed due to their high content of phytates, which bind to minerals so they are excreted, rather than absorbed. Zinc is essential for the body’s immune system, and has been shown in clinical studies to reduce the frequency and duration of the common cold.

'shroom, 'shroom!

Mushrooms have long been used in traditional medicine for healing illness and improving stamina. Among the best are reishi, shiitake, cordyceps, but even the humble common button mushroom improves immunity by increasing production of immune cells and promoting antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity in the body.

Diana Robinson is a nutritionist. Visit her at www.dianarobinsonnutrition.com.