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Gut health – your immune system’s ally

April 1, 2021

Guest expert: Faye Marthaler, CDM,CFPP, Food & Nutritional Services Manager

Within your gut, lives the microbiome. It’s a community of billions of live bacteria, and it’s an important line of defense against viruses, bad bacteria and toxins.

The health of your gut has a huge effect on your overall health and wellbeing. When your gut is healthy, you never give it a thought. When it’s not, you’re miserable and the risks are higher for sickness or disease.

What is the gut?

Billions upon billions of invisible microorganisms live within your body. Most of these are good; we mutually benefit from one another. However, other microorganisms are bad, and when they get the upper hand, discomfort and susceptibility to illness occurs.

Gut microbiome has essential functions within your body:

  • Regulating your immune system
  • Producing nutrients, such as Vitamin K2, B vitamins, short chain fatty acids
  • Fermentation of indigestible food
  • Preventing growth of harmful microorganisms
  • Influencing brain function, heart health and gut health

What affects the Microbiome

  • Diet during adulthood: Diet has a profound effect on the types of bacteria that thrive in your gut.
  • Antibiotics: Antibiotics work by killing bacteria – this is effective when you’re sick and need help ridding yourself of bad bacteria, but in accomplishing this, they also tend to destroy the good bacteria.
  • Age: It takes up to three years for toddlers to colonize their gut microbiome similar to that of an adult’s.
  • Genetics: Although much of our gut health has to do with environmental factors, some aspects of the microbiome may actually be inherited.
  • Stress: Even brief periods of stress have been shown to alter the gut microbiota.

Signs you may have an unhealthy gut

If your gut is unhealthy, you may experience any of the following:

  • Digestive issues
  • Get sick often
  • Skin issues
  • Acid reflux
  • Lack of energy
  • Vitamin and mineral deficient
  • Bad breath
  • Sugar cravings

Eat your way to a healthy gut

The good news is: You can improve your gut’s health! Since diet is the single most contributory factor to bad gut health, making purposeful changes to your diet can have a profound effect on your overall health. Try incorporating some of the following:

  • Eat a diverse range of foods
  • Eat whole grains
  • Eat prebiotic foods
  • Eat cultured/fermented foods
  • Try a plant-based diet
  • Eat foods rich in polyphenols
  • Take a probiotic supplement
  • Limit artificial sweeteners

What are probiotic foods?

Probiotic foods contain beneficial bacteria. They are like the reinforcements to your gut’s standing defense system. They help to repopulate good MIA bacteria so they can outnumber the bad bacteria. These foods are great sources of probiotics:

  • Yogurt (without sugar)
  • Kefir (fermented milk drink)
  • Lassi (Indian yogurt drink)
  • Sauerkraut (refrigerated, non- pasteurized)
  • Pickles (refrigerated, non- pasteurized)
  • Cultured veggies (refrigerated, non-pasteurized)
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Tempeh
  • Miso
  • Natto (fermented soy)
  • Kimchi (spicy Korean condiment)
  • Kombucha (effervescent cultured drink)

What about prebiotic foods?

Every defense system needs to be nourished appropriately. As it turns out, your microbiome has a preferred diet, and its favorite source of nourishment is prebiotics. Prebiotics feed your beneficial bacteria, making them proliferate so there’s less room for the bad bacteria to gain a foothold. Prebiotics are found in:

Jerusalem Artichokes              Raw leeks               Bananas
Raw dandelion greens            Raw asparagus      Asparagus
Raw or cooked onion              Chicory                   Flaxseed
Raw garlic                               Barley                     Wheat bran/oats

Eat a varied diet

Your diet should include as many different foods as possible. Base your diet on whole grains, fruits and vegetables while limiting processed sugars, red meat and animal products. It’s also vitally important to stay hydrated.

How many different fruits and veggies should you aim for each week?

Here’s how to get 35 different types of plants in your diet in one week:

Breakfast:

  • Top cereal with blueberries
  • Add spinach and mushrooms to eggs
  • Eat a kiwi with your meal
  • Add kale and strawberries to your smoothie
  • Avocado toast

Lunch:

  • Add lettuce, tomato and onion to sandwiches
  • Use hummus as a spread
  • Eat carrot chips instead of potato chips
  • Salads: add beets, artichokes, bell peppers, mandarin oranges, grapes, radishes

Dinner:

  • Have a new veggie each night: green beans, broccoli, okra, eggplant, potatoes
  • Try cauliflower rice for pizza crust
  • Instead of spaghetti noodles, use spaghetti squash
  • Switch up your starch: instead of bread, choose sweet potatoes, lima beans, peas

Snacks:

  • Celery with a nut butter topped with dried fruit
  • Apple with Greek yogurt dip
  • Banana, orange or pear with a small handful of nuts
  • Babaganoush (eggplant) with pita bread

With your gut making up 70 percent of your immune system, you can see why it’s important to ensure its health. These simple shifts in diet and lifestyle can make a big difference in your overall well-being. And now more than ever it’s important to take charge of your gut health as your first line of defense against current and future virus assaults.