Fight Off Flu Season: Go With Your Gut
Starve a cold, feed a fever...or is it the other way around? You may not have to deal with that question if you feed yourself well. There's an amazing ecosystem in your body that fights off infectious diseases including colds and the flu. That ecosystem is your intestinal tract. It is filled with hundreds of millions of bacteria. Some are harmful, some are neutral and some are quite beneficial. A healthy gut has a robust amount of the good guys inside. Those good bacteria nudge out bad bacteria and fend off germs that could otherwise make you sick.
Intestinal health is one of the hottest topics in research right now because it appears there are so many health benefits (beyond cold and flu-fighting capabilities) that can come from having healthy gut. So what should you eat to boost your ecosystem?
Probiotics are live microscopic-sized substances that help populate the intestine with certain types of good bacteria. There are hundreds of different strains of good bacteria in your body, each offering unique health benefits. Foods and supplements containing probiotics have one to a handful of different strains. Sources for getting probiotics include:
- Yogurt and kefir
- Tempeh (fermented "cake" made from soybeans, used as a meat substitute)
- Miso (soybean paste used in Asian dishes)
- Kimchi (pickled, fermented vegetables)
- Other fermented foods
Probiotic supplements can be tricky. No agency routinely tests the quality of probiotic supplements so quality can vary significantly. How supplements are handled and stored greatly affects quality, too. Focus on food first.
Prebiotics are "food" for the good bacteria in your system. They come from certain types of fiber and carbohydrates in food. Unlike probiotics, which give you just a few different strains of good bacteria, eating foods rich in prebiotics means you feed the hundreds of strains of good bacteria you already have. Prebiotics deliver a much bigger benefit to your intestine than adding in just a few from probiotics. Food sources for prebiotics include:
- Barley and other whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat, oats, corn)
- Dark green vegetables (e.g. kale, spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts)
- Berries, bananas, citrus fruits and other fruit (especially those with skins such as pears, apples and peaches)
- Beans and legumes (lentils, garbanzo beans, black beans, etc.)
- Parsnips and carrots
- Winter squash
And remember, for all the good that wholesome foods can do to help you fend off the flu, a steady diet of not-so-great foods can make you more susceptible to getting sick. Tip your grocery cart in favor of good foods for your good health.