Alexandra is a certified Holistic Health Coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. You can follow her at @inhabitwellness on Instagram.
It’s easy to forget about our immune system during the times that we feel healthy. For many, supporting the immune system might only seem necessary in certain times or seasons of the year. Sometimes it takes learning that someone around us is under the weather before we try to quickly give our immune system a “boost” and hope for the best.
The reality is that our immune system is functioning every day, all year long. Similar to many health concerns and issues, we can’t neglect this vital aspect of our body for weeks, months, or even years and then expect it to rapidly spring into optimal function at a moment’s notice.
So how do we care for it, and where do we start?
Enter: the gut microbiome. Did you know that nearly 80% of your immune system resides in your gut? It’s no wonder, then, that supporting a healthy gut environment in turn helps support a healthy immune response.
Here are some daily practices to care for your gut microbiome year-round that can have a huge impact on your immune system and overall health.
✧ Be mindful that the probiotics in your gut (and throughout your entire body!) are living microorganisms.
When we remember that these friendly bacteria are alive and need care and nourishment the same way we do, it can help us stay conscious of making healthier choices throughout the day.
✧ Focus on whole, plant-based foods.
What we eat has a powerful – and fast – impact on the bacterial make-up of our gut. One of the many benefits of focusing on eating plant-based foods is that they are naturally rich in prebiotic fibers. These fibers are not digestible to us, but actually feed our good bacteria and help them thrive.
✧ If you are able, try to source your plant-based foods seasonally, locally, and organically.
The closer we get to eating fruits, veggies, grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes the way nature intended, the happier our good bugs will be. Seek out your local farms and farmer’s markets, join a CSA, look for local produce sections at larger grocery stores, or shop at local grocery co-ops. (Please remember to prioritize your personal health and safety—many farms and grocery stores are offering curbside pick-up, right now.)
Introductory Prebiotic Foods to Add to Your Plate:
- Tomatoes - Honey
- Garlic - Apple Cider Vinegar
- Leek - Apples
- Onion - Berries
- Asparagus - Fermented Foods
- Arugula - Oats
- Beets - Quinoa
- Peas - Wild Rice
- Radishes - Chickpeas
For the adventurous palate, try adding chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, burdock root, and dandelion greens as well as amaranth, millet, and buckwheat.
✧ Spend more time in nature.
As much as you safely can, prioritize some quality time outside at least once per day. Being in nature helps increase microbial diversity and lowers stress, both of which contribute to a healthier and more balanced microbiome.
✧ Prioritize the quality and quantity of your sleep.
Our bodies need rest to perform optimally and getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis is instrumental in supporting both healthy immune function and a healthy microbiome. Here are a few habits that can help if you don’t feel like you’re getting enough sleep:
- Give yourself a bedtime.
- Turn off screens at least one hour before bed. Take it a step further and keep all screens out of the bedroom.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol intake.
✧ Consider supplementing with a probiotic.
Our modern lifestyles tend to include highly processed foods, increased sugar intake, chronic stress, more time indoors and sedentary than outdoors and moving, exposure to antibiotics and antibacterial elements, and other factors that severely deplete the beneficial bacteria in our microbiome.
Eating more fermented foods is a great place to start, but most of us don’t do this daily or eat enough when we do to make a significant impact. Replenishing our beneficial bacteria with a daily probiotic is an incredibly proactive step to take for your health.