There is a strong connection between diet and immune function. Your digestive tract contains 70% of your immune system, so the food you eat can either support or suppress immunity. Most processed foods contain ingredients known to cause inflammation. Inflammation damages tissue, including tissue in the gut. Once damage has occurred, function of the gut (and therefore immune system) declines. To keep the immune system strong, we must keep the gut healthy!
There are several simple steps you can take to support gut health and boost immunity. We recommend you start with the following:
- Eat more whole, single ingredient foods. If you don’t recognize an ingredient, neither will your immune system. Your immune system treats non-food ingredients like pathogens or “invaders,” and launches an inflammatory response. Whole foods contain only 1 ingredient, and none of the chemicals likely to damage your gut and aggravate your immune system!
- Buy organic whenever possible. Conventional fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy contain chemicals, hormones, and antibiotics that damage the gut lining and increase food allergies and sensitivities. When your immune system is busy fighting foods, it’s unable to perform other important functions (like fighting infection).
- Ditch the vegetable oils. Vegetable oils are highly inflammatory and irritate the gut lining. Avoid consuming canola, rapeseed, corn, soy, cottonseed, safflower, and sunflower oils. Instead, focus on grass fed butter, ghee, and cold-pressed olive, coconut, and avocado oils.
- Eat more fermented foods. Fermented foods are high in beneficial bacteria called probiotics, which help keep the digestive tract healthy. Fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, natto, miso, kefir and yogurt. For those who prefer not to consume these foods, a probiotic supplement can be a good alternative.
- Reduce or avoid added sugars. Most Americans consume 80-100 grams of sugar daily, while health experts recommend no more than 20-25 grams. Excess sugar causes inflammation and increases stress hormones like cortisol. Cortisol decreases function of the digestive tract and suppresses the immune system.
- Add raw apple cider vinegar to your daily routine. Apple cider vinegar stimulates release of digestive “juices” and contains live enzymes that help you digest food. Adding 1-3 teaspoons to 4 ounces of water at the beginning of meals can facilitate better digestion and absorption of nutrients from food. Dosage varies from person to person and should be reduced if discomfort occurs. Apple cider vinegar should not be used if you have active reflux, GERD, or an ulcer.