by Heather A. Goesch, MPH, RDN, LDN
‘Tis the season for travel, end-of-year deadlines, festive get-togethers… and for colds and flu. If you or your family are under the weather, or you want to preempt any illness by giving your immune system some reinforcement, read on!
Part of the body’s “microbiota,” probiotics (the “good” bacteria) and prebiotics (the “good” bacteria promoters) are mostly known for promoting good digestion, but they also play vital roles in supporting the strength of your immune system . Approximately 80% of your immune system is in your GI system, and these help replenish your stores of healthy gut bacteria, inhibit growth of unfriendly bacteria, and can also help reduce inflammation.
Probiotics and prebiotics are best utilized in food form (as opposed to supplements) and, fortunately for us, are found in many common ingredients – some of which we may already have stocked at home.
Probiotics are found in:
· Yogurt (look for packages labeled “Contains Live/Active Cultures”)
· Aged cheeses
· Fermented beverages, like kefir and kombucha
· Fermented foods, like miso, tempeh, kimchi and sauerkraut
· Soy beverages
Prebiotics are found in:
· Bananas, apples and berries
· Onions, leeks and garlic
· Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes)
· Dark leafy greens, like dandelion greens, spinach, collards, kale and chard
· Soybeans and lentils
· Pistachios and flaxseed
· Rolled oats/oatmeal
· Whole grains and whole grain flours, including wheat, rye, barley and buckwheat
Food forms of probiotics and prebiotics are further maximized when enjoyed in combination with one another. For example, a bowl of oatmeal topped with banana and a dollop of yogurt; a stir fry with garlic, asparagus, edamame and tempeh; or a homemade pizza on whole wheat crust or a whole grain pita bread with tomato sauce, artichokes, red onion, black olives and Parmesan cheese!
Most of the foods and beverages rich in probiotic and prebiotics are also loaded with many other nutrients important in the ﬁght against infection and illness, like vitamins A and C, folate, zinc, ﬁber, and plenty of potent antioxidant phytochemicals. In addition, these friendly bacteria help improve our body’s ability to utilize these beneficial nutrients, providing an even bigger immunity bump.
Better still is that pro- and prebiotics have also been linked to improvements in treatment or prevention of a variety of other health issues , including IBS (particularly reducing abdominal pain, gas and bloating), ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, infections of the urinary tract, and potentially type 2 diabetes , bladder cancer recurrence, and eczema in children.
This cold and flu season, and all year round, add a wide variety of probiotic- and prebiotic-rich foods and beverages to your daily diet to help support a strong, healthy immune system and ward off illness. Be well!
1. Giorgetti G, Brandimarte G, Fabiocchi F, et al. Interactions between Innate Immunity, Microbiota, and Probiotics. Jour Immun Res. 2015;2015:501361. doi:10.1155/2015/501361.
2. Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publishing. (2014) The Benefits of Probiotic Bacteria. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.
3. Bakalar, N. (24 November 2014) Yogurt May Lower Diabetes Risk. The New York Times Well Blog. Retrieved from https://well.blogs.nytimes.