It is that time of year when there are lots of nasty bugs lurking around and we often feel ‘under the weather’. Winter brings an increased risk of infection so it’s really important to make sure you have the best defence system possible going into the colder months.

Thankfully, our immune system does a fantastic job fending off viruses but we need to give it a helping hand and make sure it has everything it needs to run effectively. Eating well, sleeping well and keeping on top of your hygiene is key to reducing your chances of picking up an infection.

Good hand hygiene comes with practice and will help get rid of germs you might come into contact with from other people that are ill. Wash your hands regularly and effectively with soap and hot water and apply hand sanitiser often, especially when you cough or sneeze or come into contact with things other people have touched (money, door handles, etc.). Don’t share your drinking bottles, cups or cutlery.

Making sure you get plenty of good quality sleep is another key strategy for supporting your immune system. We know that averaging eight hours or more supports your immune system. It is also important to consider your flu vaccine, which you can get from your GP or local chemist.

From a nutrition perspective, consider a daily probiotic drink which has been shown to reduce the occurrence of some infections and - as an added bonus - helps keep your gut healthy. We all know that a well-balanced diet including a variety of foods and plenty of fruit and veg is important all year round but it is even more important in the winter months.

There are some nutrients that play a key role in your immune system that you should make an effort to include each day.

Vitamin C is found in oranges, kiwis, berries, kale, broccoli and peppers and can reduce the duration of the common cold. Also, it helps with the absorption of iron which is needed in the development of immune cells. Foods high in iron include: fortified cereals, red meat, pulses, nuts and some dried fruit.

Selenium is a player in inflammation and the immune response and can be found in seafood, tuna, Brazil nuts, lentils and eggs.

Another nutrient that can reduce the duration of cold symptoms is zinc. Oysters, liver, beef, the chocolate malty drink Ovaltine and wheat germ all contain zinc.

Lastly, vitamin D, which is found in oily fish and egg yolks may reduce the incidence of the common cold and plays an important role in the immune system. Check out Vitamin D: the sunshine vitamin for more information. So this winter make sure you look after your immune system and it will look after you.