The key nutrients to winter-proof your body. Which vitamins and minerals can help protect against seasonal ailments ?

Does zinc ease cold symptoms ?


Lab research has found zinc may actually stop the cold virus in its tracks. After reviewing a number of studies, Canadian researchers confirmed what previous reviews had found – that taking zinc lozenges may shorten the length of a cold by one or two days.


But this could come at a price, with side effects such as nausea and taste changes. The better solution for most people is to eat a diet rich in zinc-containining foods.




  • liver
  • lean meat
  • fish, especially shellfish such as crab and mussels
  • nuts, especially pine nuts, cashews and pecans
  • seeds


HOW MUCH WE NEED: 10 mg a day


Will vitamin C lower the risk of getting a cold in the first place ?


Vitamin C is most people’s go-to nutrient for avoiding a cold, but research shows taking 200 mg or more of vitamin C as a measure does’nt actually reduce the chances of getting a cold for the general population. however, in five trials where around 600 people were exposed to extreme physical stress (including marathon runners and skiers), vitamin C supplements did reduce the risk of catching a cold by 50%.


Meanwhile, taking vitamin C supplements regularly before you get a cold does have a modest, consistent effect in reducing how long the symptoms last, a 2013 review of studies found. But taking high-dose vitamin C supplements after the onset of cold symptoms had no effect on the duration or severity of a cold, although further research needs to be carried out to confirm this.



  • citrus fruits
  • unsweetened juices
  • kiwis
  • berries
  • peppers
  • green leafy veg, such as as broccoli, kale, watercress, brussels sprouts and cabbage

HOW MUCH WE NEED: 80 mg a day


Can having more omega-3 help reduce the winter blues ?


Omega-3s are essential fats that our bodies can’t make, needed for our heart, eyes and brain power. During the dark months, many people get the winter blues and, for those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), it can be debilitating.


There’s some evidence that omega-3 fats can reduce the incidence of or treat clinical depression in adults, although more trials are needed before this can be confirmed.


Following health guidelines to eat two portions of fish a week (one of which should be omega-3-rich oily fish, such as salmon or mackerel) will benefit your general health in any case, so it’s worth doing – and any mood-boosting benefits will be a bonus.




  • oily fish such as salmon, mackerel or sardines
  • shellfish such as crab and mussels
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • vegetable oils (such as rapeseed and linseed oils) add small amounts


HOW MUCH WE NEED: Around 3g a week (the amount provided by eating two portions of fish a week, one of them oily)


Does vitamin E improve dry winter skin ?


Along with making sure you stay well hydrated, keeping your intake of vitamin E (a fat-soluble vitamin) at recommended levels helps ensure skin stays healthy. It’s been shown that vitamin E may benefit eczema sufferers, in particular due to its antioxidant properties and the it protects cell membranes. But although a review of the science in 2012 found vitamin E improved skin dryness in eczema sufferers, there isn’t currently enough evidence to warrant vitamin E supplementation for the treatment of eczema.


Skin aside, vitamin E plays an important role in immunity for fighting off winter bugs, so it’s important to get enough in our diet.




  • oils, in particular safflower and soya oil
  • nuts and nut butters
  • seeds
  • avocados
  • fish, especially salmon


HOW MUCH WE NEED: 12 mg a day


What happens if we have a vitamin D shortfall ?


Vitamin D is made in our skin when it’s exposed, the sun’s rays in the summer. However, during the winter months in the UK, our skin doesn’t see a lot of sunshine and even if it is exposed, the ryas are too weak to make vitamin D in our body.


A deficiency is now being seen more often in both adults and children in the UK, and this can result in poor bone health. It’s also linked to low mood, although research isn’t yet conclusive.


The groups particularly at risk are older and household people, young children, those who cover up from head to toe, and people with darker skin tones.


Because it’s hard to get get enough vitamin D from our diet, the Department of Health now recommends that all children over the age of one year and all adults take a vitamin D supplement of 10 mg a day, particularly in autumn and winter.




  • oily fish
  • eggs
  • breakfast cereals fortified with vitamin D


HOW MUCH WE NEED: 10 mcg (microgram) a day from October to April



Hemilia, H. & Chalker, E. (2013). Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 

Science, M. et al. Zinc for treatment of the common cold: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Canadian Medical Association Journal 184 (10), E551-556.

British Dietetic Association (2016). Food Fact Sheet; Vitamin D.

Appleton, K.M. et al. (2010). Updated systemic review and meta-analysis of the effects of n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids on depressed mood. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 91 (3), 757-770.

Bath-Hextall, F.J. et al. (2012). Dietary supplements for established atopic eczema. Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews (2).


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