The best foods to eat to support your gut health and immune system during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic
The microbes that live in your gut (microbiome) play an important part in maintaining your immune system and your overall health. Eating the right foods for your microbiome may help to support your immune system and overall health.
- Your immune system protects you against viruses like coronavirus, but an immune overreaction can be be a problem
- Your gut plays an important role in regulating your immune responses
- What you eat can support your gut health and your immunity
Your gut microbiome regulates your immune system
Your gut is home to trillions of microbes that make up your microbiome, including bacteria, viruses and yeasts.
These bugs aren’t just hanging out in your belly for fun – they have a range of jobs that help to keep us healthy including digesting fiber and producing vitamins and other useful molecules.
Recent research has shown that your gut microbiome is important for regulating your immune system, making sure that it responds in a proportionate way to any threats and avoids over-reacting,
The interaction between your microbiome and your immune system is not yet well understood. But we do know that your gut bugs enhance anti-inflammatory responses and can, for example, activate your vitamin A from your food – a vital vitamin that helps to control your immune system.
A diverse microbiome is a healthy microbiome, with lots of different microbes that can perform a range of functions and fend off infections. Your microbiome diversity naturally drops with age, so you need to work harder to keep a good mix of microbes as you get older
You can increase the diversity of your microbiome by eating lots of plant-based foods, which are high in fibre, and limiting ultra-processed and junk food.
Recent research has shown that following a Mediterranean diet can improve your gut diversity and reduce inflammation, which may put you in a better position to fight pathogens like coronavirus.
This involves eating plenty of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes and pulses; healthy fats like high-quality extra virgin olive oil; and lean meat or fish for those who wish. At the same time, keep your gut bugs healthy by limiting alcohol intake, salt, sweets and sugary drinks.
You can also support your microbiome by including probiotic-rich foods like natural yoghurt, kefir (fermented milk) or kombucha (fermented tea), which all contain live microbes. Or take a tip from the Koreans and tuck into some kimchi – a tasty mix of fermented vegetables like cabbage with chilli and garlic.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the foods recommended in the Mediterranean diet contain a variety of different nutrients that play a role in ensuring that our immune system functions as it should.
Many different vitamins and minerals play a key role in supporting our immune function. Vitamin A, which can be found in brightly coloured fruit and vegetables including spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, mango, papaya and apricots.
It’s worth noting that there is no evidence that taking vitamin or mineral supplements can prevent you from catching infections like COVID-19. Some vitamin supplements can be harmful if taken in large doses, so the best way to ensure that you’re getting enough of these nutrients is to eat a healthy, varied diet.