by Tammy-Lynn McNabb, RHNP – Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Health Coach, and Holistic Practitioner
IMMUNITY, a word we are hearing more of in light of Covid-19 as we all scramble to find ways of preparing our bodies to fight off viruses and other diseases and infections. Having a strong and robust immune system ultimately plays a role in whether or not we are affected by disease and how fast our bodies can repair and defend itself.
Everyone has an immune system but how well it performs depends on several factors including how effectively we manage our stress; how much exercise we get; whether or not we avoid pollutants, and if we nourish our systems with foods that prepare our bodies for inevitable immune system attacks. Eating a well-balanced diet is key to maintaining a strong and healthy immune system.
Immune System & a Healthy Gut
By consuming proper nutrients you are aiding in the regular repair of your system. This comes from consuming fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and fibre, good quality proteins, clean water, and avoiding empty-calorie junk food. Aside from a well-balanced diet, it is important to single out foods that have specific jobs. Foods that keep our immune systems nourished, strong, and ready to defend our health.
One of the most important things that you can do for your health includes adding probiotic-rich foods to your diet. Up to 40% of your immune system is in your gut. Your gastrointestinal system needs to be properly supported to successfully and effectively do its job. By consuming probiotics daily and avoiding foods that tax your gut like sugar and processed foods, you stand a stronger chance of allowing your body to protect and defend your system.
PROTEIN plays a key role in good health as it is made up of amino acids that the body requires as part of the process in manufacturing antibodies. Antibodies protect against infections and are your main defence in your overall health and wellness. It is important to note that all proteins are not created equal. When choosing proteins in your diet you should choose good quality sources that provide your body with all 9 essential amino acids. Animal proteins contain all 9 essential amino acids but the same is not true for plant proteins. If you are a vegan, be sure to include a good supplement that can provide you what could be lacking in your diet. The 9 essential amino acids can’t be made by your body and must be obtained through your diet. The best sources of essential amino acids are animal proteins like meat, eggs and poultry.
When you take prescription drugs like antibiotics, the medication does a fantastic job of making you well again. Antibiotics fight certain infections and often save lives by either stopping bacteria from reproducing or destroying them altogether. Antibiotics have a downside, unfortunately, as they not only destroy bad bacteria but the good as well. The best way to help your stomach retain good bacteria is by consuming PROBIOTICS before, during, and after a course of antibiotics to restore some of the healthy bacteria in the intestines that may have been killed. One study showed that probiotics can restore the microbiota to its original state after a disruptive event, such as taking antibiotics. A good probiotic supplement can be taken while you are on antibiotics but it is very important to not take them at the same time, meaning that you should take a probiotic supplement 2 hours before or after you take your antibiotic. Given that probiotics are usually bacteria themselves, they can also be killed by antibiotics if taken together. Thus, it is important to take antibiotics and probiotics a few hours apart. But probiotics aren’t just for offsetting antibiotics. Consider consuming foods that are rich in probiotics regularly as part of your healthy diet. Probiotic-rich foods help to maintain a strong gut flora and can:
Fiber & Prebiotics – Feed your probiotics!
Eating a whole-foods-based diet rich in fibre (fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, and seeds), can actively feed good gut bacteria and encourage their growth. Certain foods contain large amounts of prebiotics, which are indigestible carbohydrates that help bacteria rapidly ferment for fuel. By eating more fibre and prebiotics, you encourage beneficial bacteria to grow from the bottom up for longterm health benefits.
Another fantastic way to build up the health of your gut microbiome is to include FLAX into your diet. We often hear about flaxseeds for their high fibre content but rarely do we read information on the benefits that flax can have on your gut. FLAXSEEDS strengthen the stability of the gut barrier by facilitating the production of mucus. Some studies suggest that flaxseeds reduce gut inflammation and protect against colon cancer. Flax provides two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. The insoluble form helps to bulk up our stools, promoting regular bowel movements, and preventing constipation. Including flax in your diet may change the microbes in the gut to improve metabolic health and protect against diet-induced weight gain. The organisms that live in the digestive tract, called the gut microbiota, play a role in regulating weight and the way the body processes sugar, known as glucose tolerance, according to a study published in the American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism.
The breakdown of dietary fibre in the gut – a process called fermentation – can produce positive changes in the digestive system, such as an increase in beneficial fatty acids, which have been known to reduce the production of fat tissue in the body and improve immune function. (Aside from fermentation of flax, seek out any fermented food like sauerkraut!)
Research from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research at Denmark’s University of Copenhagen found some amazing results after a test that included 58 women. The women involved in the study were post-menopausal and ranged from 40 to 70 years old and were clinically obese. Outside of this, none of the women had any chronic disease, including diabetes type-1 or type-2. Also, none of the women were taking probiotic supplements prior to the study.
For six weeks, the women were given one of three treatment plans:
• A probiotic supplement with Lactobacillus paracasei (9 billion CFUs per day)
• 10 grams of ground flaxseed fiber (mucilage)
• Placebo – blinded
After the six weeks, the flaxseed group showed a significant increase in probiotic bacteria in their guts. They found that flax increased populations of 33 genetically different probiotic species.
The study also illustrated:
• Flaxseeds provide an important source of prebiotic fibre and this has the effect of feeding and reorganizing populations of bacteria in our gut.
• Flaxseeds significantly decrease insulin resistance – shown by reduced blood glucose, decreased insulin, and serum C-peptide.
• Supplementation of probiotics will have little effect unless they are combined with the intake of prebiotics. Certainly, flax is prebiotic, but there are many others.
Collagen is beneficial to gut health because it contains large amounts of the amino acids glycine, glutamine, and proline which can be beneficial to the intestinal tract as well as the stomach. A healthy gut has a protective mucosal lining which is impermeable or sealed. Food particles are broken down here and pass quickly through to the intestinal tract where our body makes good use of it. If our gut lining has been damaged through bacterial imbalance like extended antibiotic use, stress, lack of regular sleep – we can develop a ‘leaky gut’, which occurs when the lining of our gut has been damaged and is now permeable.
With a leaky gut, food particles, bacteria and pathogens are suddenly able to pass through the previously sealed gut lining and enter our bloodstream. When these undigested particles hit our system, it results in an immune response called inflammation, which is the root cause of a whole host of issues.
Like the healthy mucous created by flaxseeds, the same benefit occurs with collagen, an essential component for healing and sealing the gut. Besides providing the building blocks for new collagen in the body, the amino acids delivered by hydrolyzed collagen support gut health.
As we move into another unknown season that includes not only Covid-19 but cold and flu season, really focus on your gut health and the benefits of maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. Include as many pre and probiotic foods in your daily menu this summer in preparation for the increase in colds and cases of flu. Your healthy gut is your number one defense in being well.
Makes 12 muffins
½ cup water, lukewarm
½ cup honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp coconut oil, melted but not hot
1 ¼ cup combination of spelt, buckwheat, and whole wheat flour
¼ cup ground flaxseeds
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp sea salt
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
1 scoop collagen
Preheat oven to 400F.
Combine water, egg, honey, vanilla, and coconut oil in a bowl and mix thoroughly.
In a separate bowl combine flour, ground flax, baking powder, and salt.
Make a well and add the dry ingredients to the wet, mixing JUST until moistened.
Fold in blueberries; pour into greased muffin tins.
Bake for 15 minutes.
Nutritional Value of Select Ingredients:
Blueberries – Blueberries contain one of the highest amounts of antioxidants of any fruit or vegetable. A great source of vitamin C and fibre as well, blueberries protect against age-related conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, help improve vision and normalize the bowels.
Coconut Oil – The oil from the coconut is monounsaturates of the omega 7 family. Contrary to popular belief, coconut oil helps raise good HDL cholesterol levels. Tropical oils have been part of a healthy tropical lifestyle for thousands of years, and are very stable for cooking and baking. Thailand, where coconut and its products are found in virtually every dish, has one of the lowest cancer rates in the world.
Flaxseeds – Flaxseeds are a great laxative, and are high in essential fatty acids (EFA’s) (when ground or chewed). They are full of anti-cancer lignans and phytoestrogens. The oil found in flaxseeds can aid in reducing cholesterol and slow the progression of rheumatoid arthritis and atherosclerosis.
Spelt – This sweet, nutty grain is tolerated by some people with gluten-sensitivities (however it does contain gluten). It contains all 8 essential amino acids and special carbohydrates that play a major role in blood clotting and stimulating the immune system. Spelt is higher in amino acids, protein, some minerals, and B vitamins than wheat.
Honey – This is a natural sweetener that contains vitamins, minerals, and propolis. It is a great source of magnesium. A whole-food, honey is an excellent replacement for brown or white cane sugar, which is detrimental to our health.
Buckwheat – It is gluten-free, a good source of fibre, and rich in minerals and various plant compounds, especially rutin. Rich in dietary fibre and a source of vegetarian protein.
About Tammy-Lynn McNabb, RHNP – Tammy-Lynn is a television host at Health Wellness & Lifestyle TV, a show airing on two national networks across Canada and in its 7th season. As a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Tammy-Lynn uses her knowledge in wellness and combines it with her passion for food. She believes that being healthy doesn’t mean that the food we eat has to be boring. Using the science of ingredients, Tammy-Lynn enjoys creating food with ingredients that provide maximum health benefits without compromising taste. Watch for Alligga in the cooking segment of the show!