Enjoy warm, comforting foods to boost your immune system this winter.

When winter arrives, we all want to eat warm and comforting foods because it feels good to warm ourselves up from the inside and we get an emotional sense of comfort from warm foods. 

Unfortunately, when we only eat cooked foods, we aren’t providing our immune system with all it needs to function optimally. Many of those nutrients are damaged by water and heat, for example, vitamin C, which is a great immune enhancing nutrient, is water soluble so when we cook foods that contain this nutrient it’s not bio available anymore.

So how are we to enjoy winter and the comforting foods we crave but still keep our immune system functioning well so that we stay healthy?

Firstly, what are the nutrients that we need to eat to make sure our immune system is functioning well:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin D
  • Folate/Folic Acid
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Selenium
  • Zinc

Winter Immune Boosting foods


Use fresh herbs and vegetables to make pesto ‘s, sauces and salad dressings that add nutrients to warm and cooked foods.

Herbs like Coriander (Cilantro) and Basil make great pesto’s for use in a variety of ways. Although Basil’s not in season during winter, if you have a frozen stash in your freezer, you can use that. You can also use lightly steamed broccoli, or even raw broccoli, and greens such as rocket and spinach, all of which contain vitamin C, and magnesium and iron, to make delicious pesto’s.

When you use these raw herbs and veggies to make pesto’s with loads of garlic (which is also immune enhancing), some nuts and seeds (which contain Vitamin E and zinc), some herb salt, extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) and a squeeze of lemon juice and some organic lemon rind, you create a delicious mixture that no one guesses is full of raw nutrients because it tastes so yummy.

You can top warm cooked soups with these pesto’s, you can also stir them through pasta, rice, and even quinoa or millet. Pesto can also be stirred through baked roasted veggies, and as sweet potato, pumpkins and carrots are full of fat-soluble vitamin A and E, that aren’t damaged by heat, they’re also providing their own immune protection.

Raw herbs and vegetables to help your immune system this winter.
Kale Pesto to boost your immune system during winter. Image credit Anna Shepulova Istock image 874067548

Create warm salads

When we think of winter we very seldom think about green leafy salads. Unfortunately, we still need all the nutrients that these lovely green leaves provide.

One of the simplest things to do so to chop green leaves such as kale or spinach finely and stir them into rice or quinoa just before you serve these foods. You haven’t cooked them so they still contain all the nutrients that the raw leaves contain – you’ve simply withered them in the warmth of the cooked grain. You can do the same with a cooked bean or lentil soup just before serving.

Another simple way to use lettuce leaves and kale or spinach leaves raw, is to toss hot and spiced baked sweet potato, butternut, carrots and even white potatoes into them. These warm foods will slightly wither the leaves but still leave you with all the nutrients intact.

You can of course easily enjoy a cold salad that you have drizzled with a delicious dressing. And follow that with a warm bowl of soup topped with pesto. 

Warm salads can provide essential immune boosting nutrients during winter - Bloom Magazine Journal
Warm salads can provide essential immune boosting nutrients during winter. Image credit Foxys forest manufacture Istock 1130791021

Fresh produce with breakfast

In the morning when it’s chilly we all enjoy a warm breakfast. Whether you choose a savoury breakfast or a sweet breakfast you can include fresh, raw produce to keep your immune system functioning well.

If you are a savoury kind of breakfast person then you can easily use avocados which are in season during winter, and fresh pesto, along with any other leaves to make whatever your breakfast choice is more nutrient dense.

If you’re more of a sweet and fruity breakfast person then it’s just as easy to combine raw and nutrient dense fresh produce with your warm breakfast. Use oats or quinoa, or a combination of the two, as the foundation, to make a warm porridge. Then all you need to do is stir in some raw berries just before serving. If you’ve only got frozen berries you’ll need to thaw them overnight, and stir them into the warm porridge just before you eat it.

You can also use fresh fruit on top of warm muffins, for example, you can make a simple raspberry or blueberry ‘jam’ with frozen berries stirred into some Chia seeds and a drizzle of honey, stirred and left overnight in the fridge. You can also top your warm breakfast cereal with this option.

If you’re still able to enjoy smoothies simply blend the ingredients a little bit longer so that it doesn’t feel as chilly when you eat it.

Immune boosting ways to incorporate raw nutrients for optimal nutritional health during winter
Immune boosting ways to incorporate raw nutrients for optimal nutritional health during winter Image credit Olga Miltsova Istock 876940788

These ideas ensure that you eat many raw nutrients during a time of the year when we crave comfort and warmth from our food. Keep in mind that whenever we try to deprive ourselves of something that tastes delicious and that feels right for the season, we end up depriving ourselves of the pleasure that food naturally provides. The we start craving foods that don’t support our overall health. These tweaks ensure we’re getting enough raw produce in our diet so we don’t feel deprived. In this way our body and brain feel satisfied, we can enjoy the nutrient density of our food and the immune protection it offers, and still enjoy the comfort that warm food provides during winter.


Delia McCabe (PhD) shifted her research focus from psychology to nutritional neuroscience upon discovering nutrition’s critical role in mental wellbeing. Her current research focus is on the relationship between nutrition and female stress and her research has been published in a number of peer-reviewed journals. Delia is also a regular featured expert in the media and her two ‘Feed Your Brain’ books are available in four languages. Using her background in psychology, combined with evidence-based nutritional neuroscience and neurological strategies, Delia supports behaviour change and stress resiliency within corporates, and for individuals who want to optimize their brain health, via workshops and tailored events internationally.

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