Top 10 Immunity-Boosting Foods, The Power of Probiotics
The human gut, or microbiome, contains approximately 100 trillion microorganisms that perform a plethora of critical bodily functions. This balance of good and bad bacteria (microbiome diversity) influences everything from metabolism to our behaviour.
So what does this have to do with boosting your immunity?
As the old saying goes, “you are what you eat”. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that a diet with low nutritional value can result in a low level of microbiome diversity, significantly impacting your health and wellbeing.
However, to properly boost your immune system, you’ll need more than a nutrient-rich diet to boost your immune system. Following an extensive review of hundreds of trials, it was discovered probiotic supplementation provides people with many health benefits, influencing fitness, phenotype (observable traits such as height, eye colour and blood type), and health.
According to The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics consensus statement, probiotics are living microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host, i.e. humans.
Discover how incorporating probiotic-rich foods that boost the immune system can lead to a healthier you.
The Immune System
At the risk of oversimplifying the incredible intricacies of the immune system, there are essentially two lines of defences that protect us from potentially harmful microbes.
First and foremost are physical barriers, known as our innate immunity. These include the largest organ in your body, the skin, bodily fluids like mucus and stomach acid, and the anti-bacterial enzymes in our sweat and tears.
Of course, if anything gets past these physical barriers, the immune system then switches to its adaptive or acquired immunity response, which is a system that has learnt to recognise a particular pathogen and eliminate it. Regulated by the spleen, thymus, bone marrow, and lymph nodes, nutrients including Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Zinc, Selenium, Iron, and Protein can support immune cell growth and overall health.
Another big player in your immune system is the gut or microbiome. Home to trillions of microorganisms, mainly in the intestines, inside is an ever-changing ecosystem of good and bad bacteria, performing a range of functions fermenting dietary fibre, producing vitamins and helping to absorb minerals like Calcium and Iron by releasing enzymes.
It’s even theorised that these microorganisms significantly influence immune function, metabolism, appetite, obesity, and even how people think and behave.
Beyond the genetic and environmental factors that impact us daily, seeking out immunity-boosting foods is an excellent way to improve your health and wellbeing.
Before we begin, you’ll notice most of our probiotic-rich foods are fermented. Although all fermented foods and beverages require microbial growth and enzymatic conversion of food components, this process does not automatically result in probiotic related health benefits. Otherwise, we’d probably put beer at the top of our list!
Fortunately, there are still plenty of foods to boost immunity that you can consume for immunity-boosting benefits.
Milk comes in many different forms and from many other animals. Cows milk, for example, contains two strains of bacteria known as Lactobacilli, which can improve the body’s ability to absorb Iron, Folate, Vitamin B-12 and other essential nutrients, and Bifidobacterium, one of the most widely used probiotics in digestive supplements.
Unfortunately, despite cow’s milk’s popularity and health benefits, only 35% of humans can digest lactose beyond childhood.
Lactose intolerance has been linked to the presence of the A1 β-casein protein, which, when digested, releases β-casomorphin-7 leading to gastrointestinal discomfort. If you’re unable to stomach cow’s milk, perhaps its fermented cousin may be better.
Yoghurt is fantastic immunity-boosting food made from milk that actual probiotics have fermented. Thanks to the increased probiotics in yoghurt, much of the lactose is converted into lactic acid, making it easier to digest and giving yoghurt its sour flavour.
Sadly, not all yoghurt is created the same. Some yoghurts have little to no probiotic benefit thanks to manufacturing processes, while others are just full of sugar and hardly any nutrition.
Seek out yoghurt that contains live or active cultures, like greek yoghurt.
While we’d love to tell you that every single cheese product is bursting with immunity-boosting benefits and all the probiotics you could ever want, it’s not that simple.
To make cheese requires fermentation. However, that doesn’t mean the cheese contains probiotics. Like yoghurt, what you want is cheese with live or active cultures. Gouda, mozzarella, cheddar, and cottage cheese are all excellent sources of good bacteria.
4. NATUREDAY A2+ Powdered Milk
You may have heard about A2 milk before. Regular milk, in contrast, contains both the A1 and A2 protein, which is often a problem for most milk drinkers. The A1 protein, when digested, releases β-casomorphin-7 during digestion while A2 does not.
This is important because β-casomorphin-7 has been linked to the discomfort that some people feel after drinking milk. Whereas A2-only milk may reduce gastrointestinal symptoms. Seeing the benefits that A2 milk has on intestinal absorption, NATUREDAY decided to take things further by adding 1.7 billion probiotics to each glass of A2+ milk.
Known as Dairy Plus, the 1.7 billion probiotics comprise two patented pharmaceutical-grade probiotic strains to optimise gut health and improve absorption and digestion.
Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM
Known to improve abdominal pain and bloating in people with irritable bowel syndrome, Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM is a significant upgrade to the bacteria found in mainstream milk. This patented probiotic can enhance immune responses, prevent or treat infections, lower serum cholesterol, improve lactose metabolism, and increases Calcium and Vitamins B12 and Folate absorption.
Bifidobacterium lactis HN019
Much like the improvements made to Lactobacillus, the significantly improved probiotic Bifidobacterium lactis HN019 has also been used to treat gastrointestinal symptoms. A gold-standard review in 2017 identified four clinical trials demonstrating that B. lactis HN019 enhanced cellular immune function in healthy elderly adults. Scientists are currently investigating its role in maintaining intestinal barrier function during infections, potentially resulting in less diarrhoea.
Kefir is a fermented probiotic milk drink popular in Eastern Europe and Southwest Asia, made by adding kefir grains to goat or cow’s milk. Its name is derived from the Turkish word “keyif,” referring to the feeling you have after a good meal.
Unlike cereal grains, kefir grains are lactic acid bacteria and yeast cultures, resembling cauliflower. These cultures improve bone health, protect against infections, and help with digestive problems, including lactose intolerance.
Not to be confused with the cultured buttermilk sold in western countries, traditional buttermilk is the leftover liquid from making butter. Often referred to as grandma’s probiotics, this fermented drink is regularly consumed in India, Nepal, and Pakistan.
Pronounced “sau uh krowt”, Sauerkraut is finely shredded cabbage fermented with lactic acid bacteria. While it’s not the most appetising dish on paper, it is one of the oldest and most popular foods in Eastern Europe, often accompanying German bratwurst or hotdogs in the US. Just make sure you choose unpasteurised sauerkraut, as the pasteurisation process will kill the live and active bacteria.
Moving away from Eastern Europe to Korea, Kimchi is another fermented cabbage dish made with seasonings like red chilli pepper flakes, garlic, ginger, scallion, and salt. Kimchi contains lactic acid bacteria, like Lactobacillus kimchii, that may benefit digestive health, giving it a laundry list of health benefits: anticancer, anti-obesity, anti-constipation, and colorectal cancer health promotion, probiotic properties, cholesterol reduction, fibrinolytic effect, antioxidative and antiaging.
Across the Sea of Japan, Miso is another immunity-boosting food made by fermenting soybeans with salt and a type of fungus called koji. Linked with a reduced risk of breast cancer and cerebral and myocardial infarctions in Japanese women and bursting with vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds, Miso is one of the more delicious immunity boosting foods on our list.
Although our number ten slot isn’t a confirmed immunity-boosting food, the health benefits of Kombucha have gained enough traction to warrant a mention.
Produced by fermenting black or green tea, this popular drink originated in China before spreading to Russia and Europe. Fermentation is done with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY), commonly called a “mother” or “mushroom”.
Despite taking the world by storm thanks to its potential health effects, evidence is still lacking, with studies claiming its benefits may not apply to humans. A systematic review of the clinical evidence on Kombucha to determine the efficacy and safety even concluded its therapeutic use could not be recommended.
Regardless, the global kombucha market in 2019 was worth approximately US$1.7 billion.
Introducing Probiotics Into Your Diet
Now that have you ten foods to boost your immune system, you can start to work out how to incorporate them into your diet. While this list is by no means exhaustive, it’s a great jumping-off point for a healthier and better you.
Incorporate some of these probiotic-rich and see for yourself the difference it can make to your life.