Boosting our ability to stay healthy during cold and flu season depends on good dietary choices and nutrition habits. This is common sense, as an abundance of nutrients obviously goes hand-in-hand with good health. BUT there’s a more specific element to good nourishment in regards to a robust immune system, and that lies in the health of our guts!
It’s often said that 70% of our immune system’s vital tissues reside in the gut, and efficient digestion and proper gut flora balance maximize our ability to stay healthy during the cold & flu season.
In a healthy digestive state, our digestive tract is filled with friendly bacteria that we refer to as “probiotics,” with which we live synergistically – we benefit from them being in our gut as much as they benefit from having our bodies as an environment to thrive in! Each of the various strains of bacteria in our gut play different roles that help us to optimize our health, but overall, they:
- Help us digest foods we aren’t capable of digesting
- Produce chemicals that alter the immune system and manage inflammation
- Act as a protective barrier against bad bacteria
- Out-compete bad bacteria for food
Having a balanced ecology of gut flora strengthens the overall immune system as it provides a line of defense with the resources to fight off pathogenic organisms, like viruses and bacteria, preventing them from taking hold if they enter our body.
BUT, diet does not equal nutrition. Even if we eat well, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are digesting and absorbing the essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals that we need to optimize our health. The word “diet” only refers to the food that we put into our mouth, but the process of extracting nutrition from those foods is dependent on how healthy our digestive processes are.
Basic digestive tips for improving immunity through gut health
- Eat a colourful, nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory diet – this means eating a diverse, colourful diet of more vegetables than everything else, delivering high amounts of phytonutrients – the naturally occurring chemicals that give healthy fruits, vegetables and herbs their colours, tastes, smells and unique benefits!
- Greens superfood powders are a convenient way to maximize nutrient intake and ensure our immune system has all the nutrients it requires. But not all green powders are as nutrient-rich as they may suggest. Just like in fresh fruits and vegetables, phytonutrients are what make these superfoods so beneficial, for our health as a whole, but are specifically nourishing to gut bacteria populations. greens+ has been found to contain up to 350% more phytonutrients than other green food competitors. Plus, the bioavailability of phytonutrients can be increased by over 100% when diverse microbes are present. Put simply, phytonutrients promote the growth of friendly bacteria and friendly bacteria help us better use our phytonutrients! Win-win!
- Eat warm, and easy-to-digest foods like soups, stews and smoothies.
- Get adequate protein throughout the day – protein provides the body with amino acids, the building blocks for antibodies that help our immune system coordinate the war against invading pathogens.
- Protein powders can help us acquire optimal levels of protein to maximize antibody production and immunity. Sadly, many protein powders on the market are difficult to digest, leading to an unhappy gut. In order to get the most from your protein, ensure that your protein powder has been fermented. Genuine Health’s fermented vegan proteins+ and fermented Greek yogurt proteins+ maximize protein absorption, helping to strengthen the gut and digestive health.
- Minimize sugar and simple carbohydrates, which have been found to lower immunity.
- Probiotic supplements, when chosen properly, can directly and quickly establish improved gut flora balance and directly modulate the immune system to respond more appropriately to external pathogens. Genuine Health’s NEW advanced gut health probiotic contains 15 carefully selected strains chosen to mimic healthy gut flora and features a unique plastic-free delayed release vegan capsule that guarantees that the bacteria gets to where it should go so it can flourish.
- Fermented foods and supplements not only deliver higher phytonutrient content than their unfermented counterparts, they promote and help maintain a healthy ratio of the good bacteria versus the bad and generally amplify the health benefits of the foods that have been fermented.
A robust immune system is built from the gut up. By supporting gut health through eating warm, easy-to-digest foods, minimizing sugar, and by choosing supplements that nourish the gut, like greens powders, fermented proteins and probiotics, is the best way to “level-up” this cold and flu season.
Dr. Jason Marr is a Naturopathic Doctor, an Expert Health & Wellness Speaker, Director of Evoke Integrative Medicine Ltd. in downtown Vancouver, BC, and Functional Medicine Coordinator for Twist Performance & Wellness. He arms urban professionals with evidence-based, integrative, real-world tools to maximize productivity, creativity and learning agility, while overcoming fatigue, stress, anxiety and burnout.