With winter now in full swing, this is the time of year that our immune system typically has to work its hardest. Did you know that around 70% of your body's immunity is found in your gut? While one option is turning to the medicine cabinet for a quick boost to the immune system, incorporating specific whole foods into your diet can help naturally improve your ability to prevent and overcome winter illnesses. Here are some natural foods to help keep you healthier throughout the remaining cold months.

Stress reliever: Chia seeds 

Our reduced exposure to daylight thanks to the shorter winter days can contribute to our body producing less serotonin; a naturally occurring chemical which helps regulate the overall feeling of wellbeing and can help improve the quality of sleep.

While the serotonin found in foods can't be used by our brain, it is thought that boosting your levels of an amino acid called tryptophan may help as it forms the building blocks for serotonin. Chia seeds may be tiny, but they are widely considered to be a superfood for their potent nutrient content which includes tryptophan.

Soak them in water, milk, or a similar liquid first to ensure they are safer and easier for your digestive system to process. Then add to baking, use in smoothies, or incorporate into puddings and desserts for a health boost.

Cold and flu fighter: Blackcurrants

When it comes to winter lurgies, we almost automatically veer towards Vitamin C - usually in the form of oranges and other citrus fruit - for building immunity. However, fresh, frozen, pureed or juiced; blackcurrants are now being recognised for their concentrated antioxidant properties.

These little berries pack a powerful punch with 150-200mg of Vitamin C per 100g. For comparison, oranges contain just 52mg per 100g. Something worth thinking about if you are trying to ward off a cold!

Include in smoothies and other drinks, top cereals or yoghurt with them, add into desserts, baking, or even sauces to gain the nutritional benefits.

Multivitamin substitute: Leafy greens

Whether you add extra silverbeet into your slow cooker stews, include spinach in your smoothies or lasagne, or bake a batch of kale chips to snack on, upping your intake of leafy greens can do a lot to improve your nutrient intake.

Packed with fibre, vitamins and minerals there's good reason why we're often told to 'eat your greens'. Studies have indicated that the more types of greens and other raw vegetables you eat, the more phytonutrients your body will get which in turn may help boost immunity. Phytonutrients are natural chemicals developed by plants to protect themselves from UV rays, fungi, and pests such as insects or animals.

Sore throat reliever: Manuka honey

Made by bees that feed on the nectar of Manuka trees which can only be found in New Zealand, Manuka honey is becoming increasingly known and studied internationally for its anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties.

Quality Manuka honey is now often graded with a UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) rating which can help you determine the purity and quality of the honey you are purchasing. The higher the grading number, the higher the concentration of signature compounds and the more useful it is likely to be for medicinal purposes. If you're wanting to treat a sore throat, you are best to use Manuka honey with a rating of at least UMF 10 or more.

Stir a spoonful into a mug of hot water with a squeeze of lemon juice and a little grated ginger for a soothing health tonic.

NZ Real Health is an online blog by Ange Noy where you can find practical information and advice on health, wellbeing and fitness. For more articles like this, visit http://www.nzrealhealth.co.nz.