How the Mediterranean Diet Can Boost Your Immunity Through Winter

I was thrilled when Naturopath and Herbalist and Organic Food, Health and Lifestyle Educator, Anthia Koullouros offered to write this piece for Health Bird. Anthea has a Greek/Cypriot background and knows all about the healthy (and tasty) benefits of a Med diet...

With a Greek-Cypriot background, I have grown on a Mediterranean diet, (what my grandparents ate) - plenty of cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, plant foods such as vegetables, fruit and some nuts and seeds and pulses, pastured lamb and wild fish and seafood and pastured dairy yogurt, cheese, butter, poultry and eggs.

Several epidemiological studies have evaluated the effects of a Mediterranean Diet as protective against diseases such as obesity, atherosclerosis, metabolic syndrome and cognition disorders.

Why? Because the Mediterranean diet is considered rich in nutrients necessary for a thriving healthy human being and is generally free from industrialized processed vegetables oils, refined salt and sugar, artificial additives and farming chemicals - ingredients and products shown to be detrimental to health. 

Photo from the Mother Nature Network

Photo from the Mother Nature Network

Winter can be a time of illness, fatigue or just feeling ‘under the weather’, a Mediterranean Diet may be helpful for supporting your immune system in the cooler months.

Some of the specific foods that make up a Mediterranean Diet include:

· Extra virgin olive oil. Possibly the most widely studied source of polyphenols in the Mediterranean Diet is extra virgin olive oil. Mostly made up of monounsaturated fatty acids, extra virgin olive contains a high phenol content which offers many health benefits. It’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties have a positive effect on certain physiological parameters, including plasma lipoproteins, oxidative damage, inflammatory markers, platelet and cellular function, and antimicrobial activity – all important for building immunity.

·   Olive leaf extract.  As mentioned above, olive oil is considered an excellent source of both beneficial fats and polyphenols. However, due to the fact that many polyphenols are water soluble and not fat soluble most of the olive tree’s polyphenols are lost during the oil making process. Olive Leaf Extract however contains Oleuropein, a powerful antioxidant that provides immune support. Traditionally used in Western Herbal medicine to support the immune system and relieve symptoms of coughs, colds & flu, sore throats and upper respiratory tract infections, olive leaf extract is a winter pantry must-have.  Look for an olive leaf extract that is Australian made and ‘fresh-picked’ to ensure it is as close to nature as possible by retaining all of the plant’s phenolics that occur naturally in the olive leaf.

·   Fresh Vegies. Home grown or naturally grown vegetables (organic or free of chemicals), including fresh herbs such as parsley and oregano, weeds or wild greens such as nettle and rocket. Greens are rich in antioxidants and vitamins and minerals and bitters which enhance digestion. Lemon juice and lemon zest are rich in vitamin C and antimicrobial properties known to support the immune system. Mediterranean food is often drenched in lemon juice. Vegetables are consumed in abundance and served with every meal, raw in a salad or boiled or steamed and served with lots of olive oil and lemon juice.

·   Wild fish and seafood. Wild caught over farmed is preferable as this offers higher amounts of omega 3, and essential fats which have anti-inflammatory and protective properties for the heart, brain and nervous system. Whole fish is preferred over fillet of fish which offers a higher nutrient content derived from the fish fat, bones and organs. Be sure to consume fish during the winter months to ensure you’re receiving a high dose of nutrients.

·   Pastured lamb. A typical staple, lamb, that is grass fed is rich in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), omega 3, fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K2 and other healthy fats. These healthy fats enhance the immune system, reduce inflammation and keep winter weight stable. Only minimal amounts of healthy fats are found in grain fed industrialized farmed animals. Lamb also offers complete protein making it a great winter meal option.