Did you know that over 70% of the body’s immune cells are found in the gastrointestinal tract?
Yes… read that again! The gut is home to as many as 40 trillion cells and hundreds of species of tiny living microbes that influence immunity, mood, anxiety, cognition and even pain.
The key functions of the gut microbiota are breaking down complex carbohydrates, producing vitamins and minerals like vitamin K, and defending against pathogens.
The gut microbiome can change dramatically due to stress or poor diet. Therefore, it is super important to promote the best environment to help your microbes thrive.
Here are 5 immune supportive food and lifestyle tips that you can start following today!
1. Fiber is your friend
Fiber is a nondigestible carbohydrate found in fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Fiber is like food for your microbes. The greater the variety of fiber you consume, the greater variety of microbes you have.
Fiber has many other health benefits as well, including helping to lower cholesterol, keeping blood sugar levels stable, and keeping your bowel movements regular.
Beta-glucans in particular, are one form of soluble dietary fiber that are naturally produced by bacteria, fungi and many plants. Mushrooms and oats are some common foods that contain these fibers. These fibers have been extensively researched for their immunomodulatory effects!
Women should aim for at least 25g of fiber and men should aim for at least 38g of fiber daily.
2. Probiotic Power
Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that live in your gut. Taking probiotic supplements or eating foods with live probiotic cultures promotes a diverse gut microbiome and can decrease inflammation. Probiotics can be naturally found in cultured dairy products such as yogurt, and in fermented foods such as kimchi.
3. Eat the Rainbow
The color of each fruit and vegetable is caused by different phytonutrients, natural chemicals that help to fight pathogens. Eating a variety of colors from fruits and vegetables ensures that you are getting a variety of phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals!
Some nutrients that play a key role in the immune system are:
Vitamin C: found in citrus fruits, berries, bell peppers, dark leafy greens, tomatoes
Beta Carotene: found in tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli
Vitamin D: found in fatty fish, eggs, and fortified milk or juice.
Zinc: found in beef, seafood, wheat germ, nuts and legumes
4. Make Sleep a Priority
Many studies have proven that sleep deprivation can cause major detrimental effects on your immune system. People who don’t get enough quality sleep are more likely to get sick and need longer to recover after being exposed to a virus.
Try to aim for 6-8 hours of quality sleep per night. Make it a habit to go to bed just 30 minutes earlier the night before until you reach your goal!
5. Manage Stress
Stress! It’s something we all have every now and then, especially these days. Unfortunately, too much stress can cause suppression of the immune system.
Learning to manage your individual stress is an important tool for optimal immune health.
Exercise, meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy, deep breathing and laughter are all proven tools to manage stress. These activities help to produce endorphins, which can improve our mood. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day to start putting you in a better mood!