For travelers, a sturdy immune system is important to ward off the barrage of viruses and bacteria that are part of the journey. To keep yours in top shape, go with your gut.
“The immune system is lined up all along our [gastrointestinal] tract,” said Dr. Zhaoping Li, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Dendritic cells along the GI lining regulate the body’s immune function, and bacteria inside the gut work closely with those cells to stimulate immune response to invaders.
To keep the immune system healthy, keep the gut flora healthy.
Eat Your Veggies
“When we eat a plant-based diet, we feed the bacteria inside the gut,” said Li, who recommends making vegetables a major part of at least two of every three meals. Fresh vegetables contain prebiotics (fibrous substances that directly stimulate the growth of good bacteria), vitamins and minerals.
“Don’t just eat salads,” Li said. Some vegetables release more of their vital nutrients when cooked.
Avoid packaged foods, which generally contain preservatives that compromise gut health. “The food with the preservatives is killing all the bacteria,” Li said.
Before we started flying and trucking in food from around the world, people had to eat what was available locally and in season, which is what Li says is best for our bodies. Binging on a few super foods isn’t the way to good health. “That’s a lazy way out,” said Li. “We all want that, but it’s not the best way.”
Skip the Supplements
Probiotics are live bacteria that are beneficial to the immune system. They are found in foods such as yogurt, and are also available as supplements. But Li says these generally contain just one or two bacterial strains – while your gut has 500.