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It’s that time of year again when everyone seems to be suffering from a cold. We asked our bariatric dietician, Nicole Berberian for tips on how to beat a cold. This advice applies to both bariatric patients and non-bariatric patients.

Our immune system is a complex to prevent attack and damage from outside invaders, like a defence structure. What you eat is important as this is used to keep your immune system working. Understanding the immune system will help you see what you need to do to stay strong.

Your special defence system has two key parts – innate immunity and adaptive immunity. The first, our innate immunity, is a physical barrier against invaders that is present at birth and acts like a wall to stop things getting in. It is your first line of defence. This includes the skin, the eye surface, mucus secretions in your nose and respiratory tract, the acidity of the stomach and the surface all along the gut. It is critical that this is whole without breaks and cracks. Low vitamin C causes scurvy where the gums bleed and the skin bruises easily breaking down – easy access for invaders. Low vitamin A means the lining of the eye, the respiratory tract and the gut fail. Protein, zinc and vitamin E are further key building blocks that we may see low in those not eating well. Your first line barrier is down and infections are on their way in.

The second system, the adaptive immunity, is there to take care of the next step when infection does get in. These are the immune cells and antibodies. These build up over our lifetime as we are exposed to viruses and bacteria, our body learns how to tackle each infection. But for them to build there is a long list of nutrient needed; starting with the obvious ones protein and iron, followed by – vitamin A, B6, B12, C, D, E, folic acid, zinc, copper and selenium. There is no getting away from it, this is the time to eat well!


So what should you eat to pack all these in?

My favourites are winter warmer stews, soups and hot casseroles, not only because they help rehydrate and sooth sore throats they are also packed with spices and vegetables rich in all the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that cover the list above. Think onions, garlic, carrots, tomato, spinach, sweet peppers, chilli, turmeric, cumin. Think protein with skinless chicken thighs and extra lean beef to make a good protein based casserole stock base as well as adding iron and zinc. For vegetarians and non-meat eaters think of adding green and red lentils to the dish for extra protein, iron and fibre. Add to that plenty of oranges, lemons and other citrus fruit, grapes and hot teas made of lemon and ginger to sip and snack on and you’ll soon be on your way to recovery!

Here’s my latest favourite super easy spicy casserole dish I created this week when I needed a pick me up!



Harissa paste spicy vegetable and lentil stew

2 onions chopped

5 cloves garlic

3 carrots sliced

2 sweet peppers chopped in 1 inch chunks– any colour, I used red and orange.

1 aubergine sliced in 1 inch chunks

3 medium size potato or sweet potato

(Optional – any other vegetables you want to use up, you don’t have to use the combination above – celery, tomato, chopped tomato, tomato puree, spinach, swiss chard, etc)

Harissa paste (I used half a 90g Sainsbury’s harissa paste jar)

Half a cup red lentil

Half a cup green lentil

(Optional – 6 skinless chicken thighs instead of lentils or you can use both!)

Vegetable stock cubes x2

Salt and black pepper if needed – I did without.



Soften onions in 2 tablespoons olive oil, add garlic, carrots and stir in harrissa paste.

If using chicken thighs add these in now.

Add the rest of the vegetables and lentils and toss in the paste.

Cover with plenty of water and 2 stock cubes (and tomato puree and tin tomato here if using this).

Cover and simmer low and slow until lentils (and meat) are cooked and soft, longer cooking time gives a richer flavoured stock.

If you are adding vegetables such as spinach or potato/sweet potato I suggest adding them a little later as they do not take as long to cook and can become too soft and overdone with less vitamin C left.

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