How To Armor Up For Cold And Flu Season With A Healthy Microbiome

How To Armor Up For Cold And Flu Season With A Healthy Microbiome

There’s never been a time where we’ve felt so vulnerable – at least not in my lifetime. Owning our health is more important than ever and seeking out the knowledge and wisdom and science we have available is our inherent responsibility. With the unprecedented pandemic and the daily stresses associated to adapting to it, our systems may have never been so challenged. Our nervous system, endocrine system, digestive system, lymphatic system, adrenal system AND our immune system and every other part of our body needs support, and it all begins with food.

Food is the fuel to not only give us the life force we need for energy and vitality, but it also helps us manage stress, helps us rest and sleep, helps us balance our hormones, and helps us armor up our immunity. When there’s a crisis in one of our systems, the ‘machine’ becomes at risk of breaking down.

That’s why in this post, we’re focusing on the microbiome aka the ‘gut.’ Often referred to as the little brain, your gut controls, your mood, your ability to absorb nutrients and regulate hormones. And now many studies are corroborating the fact that your gut health also indicates whether or not you might get COVID and how you might recover. Now, studies all over the world are concluding the same thing. If we don’t take care of our gut and that very important bacteria, that helps to keep our health in check. Guess what? It’s going to throw everything else off balance.

We can do so much by avoiding disease by helping to armor ourselves at the end of our forks.

So we’re going to talk a little bit about that and what you can add into your diet and into your everyday routine to help bolster your gut health with probiotics, prebiotics, and supplements that I love and recommend, but I want to dive into some of this data cause I’m a data geek and I’ve been pouring over some of the studies that have been chronicled from around the world.

We’ve established that a healthy gut helps to regulate digestion and metabolism. It promotes overall wellbeing. About 70% of your immune cells are in your gut.

We don’t like to talk about like, umm, problems in the bathroom. Let’s just leave it at that. But according to a report on the official website of the University of California Davis, which I’m very proud to announce my daughter will be attending in the fall. The gut health is so much more than that.

It describes the function and balance of bacteria, of the many parts of the gastrointestinal or GI tract. And there’s an extensive variety of bacteria in our digestive tract. So, when we talk about bacteria, it’s the good kind. It’s the kind that helps to keep us in balance. And when we eat foods, maybe that are not balanced, like excessive sugar, refined foods and processed ‘shtuff’, hopefully our gut health is strong enough where it doesn’t put us down for the count.  But, when your gut health is not in good shape and it doesn’t have diverse microbiome, it can lead to a whole myriad of problems and not just lowered immunity but chronic disease and even schizophrenia.

And so it would make sense friends that our gut health is a pretty critical part of maintaining overall immunity, preventing severe flu and bacterial attacks in the long run. Now, establishing the importance of gut microbiome, studies around the world are finding unanimously that it is linked to the severity of COVID-19 as well as the ability of the immune system to respond to infection.  It also suggests that any kind of imbalance that may lead to persistent inflammatory symptoms, which is often termed as long COVID or long-term COVID are connected to a gut imbalance. One of these findings is found in the Journal called appropriately ‘Gut’.

Before we load up on the probiotics, we have to ‘prime’ the garden.

Think of feeding your gut garden like feeding your plants.  You want to use the good fertilizer, the stuff that makes your sprouts go off, which I’m very happy to report is happening in my garden as we speak. That comes from prebiotics.  These can be from onions, garlic, asparagus and starchy bananas. You can get it from chicory root, dandelion artichoke. So many foods that help to feed the prebiotic need, including powder supplements from companies like Garden of Life that help you do this. And a lot of that just comes from fiber-rich foods, so the more insulin-resistant fiber, the better.  Whole fruit vs. juice.  Single ingredient superfood grains vs. processed starch. You get the picture.

Foods with sugar are going to deplete your gut bacteria. So anytime you see a label with yogurt with lots of sugar added, it’s basically canceling out any good that the yogurt would bring to the table. Same with kombucha.  A lot of kombucha products out there are adding sugar to make it more ‘palatable’ for the mainstream, but it defeats the purpose.

The goal is to fill up on pure sources of probiotic, rich foods and there’s nothing better than the rainbow of raw fruit and vegetables.  An apple can give you 100 million bacteria alone.  Getting a diverse range of produce – from red, orange, blue, green, purple and yellow – is the key to this, and enjoying them raw is critical.  When you heat food, you kill the enyzymes and good bacteria that goes with it.  Try incorporating raw cut up veggies with hummus, a daily salad or fruit bowl into your daily habits, and make sure to wash them with eatCleaner to help remove the unwanted residue and help them last longer.  If you spend 15 minutes a week doing this, they’ll be ready to eat when you are.You can also get probiotic richness from pickled foods, too, like kimchi and sauerkraut. And pickled vegetables, even your good old pickles that you add to your, uh, you know, your meals are a great source of probiotics. Sourdough starter is a great fermented rich food, and so is raw apple cider vinegar with the mother in it. Foods like fermented black garlic, essentially anything that is fermented that has. 

Gone through a fermentation process that does not have a high sugar content is going to help to feed your gut bacteria. So, we know that eating these types of foods should be an essential part of our everyday habit.

Here are some tips for how you can make the bites count for your overall health. 

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Below are just some of the goodies you should be eating on the daily

1) Nuts and seeds (lysine rich foods) – Lysine is a building block for protein. It’s an essential amino acid because your body cannot make it, so you need to obtain it from food. Studies show lysine can increase the number of new cells at a wound. It may even promote the formation of new blood vessels.  Lysine may play a role in reducing anxiety, and a study found that it blocked receptors involved in stress response.  Getting lysine from proteins is a smart idea, and you can also find them in plant-based options like nuts and seeds.  I love cashews, walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds (pepitas), sunflower seeds and pistachios in a lot of my cooking. What a powerhouse – and full of flavor!

2) Yogurt (probiotic rich foods) – The role of the microbiome in our overall immunity is significant. Numerous health conditions, such as obesity, insulin resistance, fatty liver disease, and low-grade inflammation seems to be more  frequently diagnosed in people with low diversity in the gut microbiota than in people with high diversity.  Yogurt contains a variety of beneficial bacteria, also named “probiotic bacteria”. These bacteria may  impact  the gut bacteria, providing health benefits.  Plus, yogurt is a great source of protein, with many plant-based versions available.  Just watch for ‘added sugar’ and try and stick to plain yogurt enjoyed in a more savory way.  One of my favorite condiments is yogurt sauce, made with garlic, cucumber and lemon juice.  Yum! Other probiotic rich, fermented foods include kimchee, sauerkraut, pickled veggies, raw apple cider vinegar, tempeh and black garlic.

3) Microgreens (phytonutrient rich foods) – The most nutrient-dense foods on the planet are leafy greens and the benefits of all the fiber, phytonutrients and cell regenerating power are immeasurable!  It’s just more than our minds can even handle.  But what’s even more amazing are microgreens, which are the pre-mature shoot of the plant that grows in just weeks – they can be up 40 times more potent in phytochemicals than their mature counterparts, according to a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Plus, you don’t need to chop them.  Just wash them with Eat Cleaner Fruit + Veggie Wash and layer them onto your salads, bowls and into smoothies.  The spicier ones, like radish sprouts, add a ton of flavor with just a little bite – so it’s true, small is powerful. Also, lean into cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and other cruciferous veggies for their disease-fighting power. 

4) Berries (Antioxidant rich foods) – Antioxidant up! Berries are not only a potent and readily-available way to deliciously load up on vitamin C, what makes berries so special is their high levels of phytochemicals — those naturally occurring nutrients that help protect cells from damage and the key to a healthy immune system is healthy cells.  They’re also good for your heart, can help prevent high blood pressure and can help manage diabetes because they are low GI – glycemic index – which means they won’t spike your blood sugar.  A consistent blood sugar is key to keeping your body in check.  I can’t stress this enough!  So feast on blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, goji berries and açaí berries – as long as there’s no sugar added.  Other antioxidant-rich foods include tomatoes, artichokes, dark chocolate (yes!), beans and leafy greens like kale, cabbage and spinach.

5) Garlic & Onions (prebiotic rich foods) – Garlic and onions aren’t only a delicious base to almost every culture’s indigenous cuisine, it’s the basis of many of our modern-day antibiotics because of their virus-fighting power.  These prebiotics are also what we need to get the probiotics to do their good work, so kind of think of it as the ‘fertilizer’ for a healthy growing situation.  Onions as well as garlic have many health benefits. Onions regulate blood levels of bad cholesterol and good cholesterol. Also, onions are the best if you eat them in their raw state. Onions, like garlic, decreases risk of developing blood clots. Also, onion fights against viruses and bacteria and they prevent and heal infections. I’m a huge fan of fermented black garlic, as you can eat easily eat it raw and its creamy, almost caramel-like flavor lends itself beautifully to anything you’d use regular garlic in.

6) Beans (zinc rich foods) – Beans, beans, the magical fruit – yes, fruit!  These power-packed legumes definitely have an important place in your fit lifestyle. Beans are an excellent source of fiber, protein, B vitamins and zinc – which can help ward away colds and viral infection. They belong to the Fabaceae family of plants, which is what sets them apart from other fruits and seeds. Beans offer a range of potential health benefits due to their high nutrient content. Some of the potential benefits that they provide include decreasing blood sugar levels and providing pure plant-based protein for energy and those essential amino acids you need to fight infection.  Soybeans – the kind that are non-GMO – definitely have a place in your diet, especially if you’re menopausal.  Stock up on a variety of pre-cooked, canned beans to build up a strong pantry and add them to your salads, soups, veggie burgers and stuffed peppers – I have some great recipes for those – and even desserts (black bean brownies are the bomb! you can also get zinc from wild rice, sunflower seeds and nutritional yeast.

7) Wild-caught salmon, mackerel and sardines (Omega 3-rich foods) – We’ve all heard about the benefits of fatty fish, but how can omega-3s improve immune function? Through their effects on cell membranes, including white blood cells. Every cell in the body needs homeostasis—a constant internal environment. And a healthy cell membrane, the wall between the internal cell and the outside, is key. Without this membrane, cells lose their ability to hold water and vital nutrients, as well as the ability to communicate.

Cell membranes are composed chiefly of fatty acids derived from the diet, so good fats in our everyday diets are important. Don’t be afraid of canned seafood to fulfill this dietary need, because it’s available year-round and always wild caught.  Try my recipe for Seafood-stuffed avocados in my book.

8) Spicy peppers, horseradish and wasabi (Capsaicin/Spicy foods) – That burn that runs through your nose and makes you want to good-cry is a good thing.  It’s nature’s super immune booster, and the active ingredient is capsaicin.  Capsaicin has been widely studied for its pain-relieving effects, its cardiovascular benefits, and its ability to prevent ulcers. Capsaicin also effectively opens and drains congested nasal passages in addition to boosting the immune system making it a great natural cold and flu remedy. In addition to its high capsaicin content, cayenne peppers are also an excellent source of vitamin A, through its concentration of pro-vitamin A carotenoids including beta-carotene – so the benefits are immense, if you can take the burn!  Start slowly and build your tolerance from there.  If you stock your spice cabinet, it will take you places both health wise and on the taste spectrum.

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