A nutritionist has revealed that a diet which supports gut health is the boost your immune system amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Kate Llewellyn-Waters, from London, told Femail that eating foods rich in zinc, probiotics, antioxidants and vitamin C will support healthy bacteria in the gut, which is responsible for 70 per cent of the immune system.
Here she explains which foods to eat to help protect your gut, and boost your immune system in the battle against Covid-19.
Kate Llewellyn-Waters, from London, told Femail that eating foods rich in zinc, probiotics, antioxidants and vitamin C will support healthy bacteria in the gut, which is responsible for 70 per cent of the immune system
Why is guy health so important for the immune system?
Kate explained: ‘Research shows that there is a huge amount of interaction between the body’s immune system and bacteria in the gut.
‘Beneficial gut bacteria species have been demonstrated to impact both the innate (present right from birth) and acquired immune systems (acquired during the course of life).
‘They have also been shown to significantly shorten the duration of having a common cold, and decrease the severity of the symptoms. So, we need to focus on optimising our gut health, strengthening the gut lining and re-inoculating (re-populating your gut with bacteria by eating prebiotic and probiotic rich foods).
‘In turn, this will then help promote a strong immune system.
‘The collection of bacteria living in our guts is called the microbiome, and this consists of approximately a hundred trillion bacteria.
‘There are ten times more of these cells than there are human body cells, and these genes outnumber your human genes by an incredible 150:1.
‘It is currently believed that factors, such as diet, lifestyle and genetics have the greatest influence on shaping the gut microbiome.
‘And, whilst we can’t change our genes, we can affect the composition of the different species of bacteria in our guts, through diet and lifestyle. We need lots of variety when it comes to gut bacteria, so it is important to make sure our guts have as many different bacteria species as possible.
‘Luckily, for us, this can be achieved by eating a variety of different foods, rich in different species of bacteria – all of which promote a healthy gut lining, microbiome and consequently a healthy immune system.
Kate said: ‘Prebiotics and probiotics work together to maintain a healthy digestive system and promote a strong immune system.
‘Prebiotics are the non-digestible component of food, which feed the “friendly” gut bacteria.
‘A high-fibre diet is naturally rich in prebiotics, and this will help to obtain the subsequent health benefits of probiotics.
‘Best prebiotic food sources: apples, asparagus, artichokes, bananas, broccoli, cauliflower, fennel, garlic, legumes, leeks, onions, pak choi, wheat and oats.
‘Probiotics are microorganisms and the ‘friendly’ gut bacteria. They provide many health benefits, such as improving the intestinal microbial balance and boost the immune system.
‘The best probiotic food sources are fermented foods such sauerkraut, fermented tempeh (type of soya), miso, kefir and yogurt.
‘Other good gut health foods, especially for promoting a healthy gut lining, include pumpkin, sweet potatoes, squash, nuts, chicken stock (the collagen promotes a healthy and strong gut lining).
‘While there is currently no official recommended daily allowance for antioxidants or antioxidant foods, generally speaking the more you consume each day from real wholefoods in your diet the better.
‘Most fruits, vegetables and herbs contain antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, lutein, beta-carotene, flavonoids and lycopene.
‘The following foods are excellent sources of antioxidants: blueberries, Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale, onion, oregano, turmeric, cumin, basil, ginger, garlic, cayenne pepper, dark chocolate (70 per cent minimum cocoa solids), green and white tea.
Apples (stock image, pictured) are among the best sources of prebiotic food. Prebiotics and probiotics work together to maintain a healthy digestive system and promote a strong immune system
Dark chocolate is an excellent source of antioxidants, as long as it’s at least 70 per cent cocoa
‘Vitamin C is an antioxidant found in abundance in fruits and vegetables.
‘It is a significant nutrient for boosting immunity and may help to slightly reduce the severity and duration of a common cold.
‘Food sources include: broccoli, Brussel sprouts, kale, kiwi fruit and oranges.
‘Zinc is a very important mineral needed for a healthy immune system.
‘However, it is paramount that you keep to the recommended daily requirements and the upper level of zinc (through supplementation), since exceeding this may, in fact, suppress the immune response and result in unwanted, negative side effects.
‘Food sources include: meat, poultry, seafood, legumes, lentils, cereals and dairy products.
‘In addition to good gut health and a balanced diet, it is also important to consume at least two litres of water a day (ideally filtered), adopting moderate cardio, resistance exercise and reducing stress in your life.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant found in abundance in fruits and vegetables including broccoli
Zinc is a very important mineral needed for a healthy immune system, and is found in dairy products
… and what should we avoid?
Kate told Femail: ‘There are a number of factors that negatively affect gut bacteria, such as high stress levels, antibiotic use, and smoking.
‘Stress can impact our gut bacteria significantly, altering the diversity and number of our gut bacteria, which can then cause the flare-up of certain condition we may be predisposed to, such as eczema.
‘So focus on stress-management techniques (going for a walk, 10 minutes using a mindfulness/meditation app, or having a catch-up with a friend) that work for you, and this will do your gut health wonders.
‘Whilst at times antibiotics are very necessary in order for us to fight an infection, they do unfortunately target and reduce the good, friendly bacteria as well as the harmful bacteria causing the actual infection.
‘In fact, research has shown that antibiotics decrease the diversity of gut bacteria in just three-four days, and depending on your diet, the effect of this can last for months to even years.
‘Once you have taken a course of antibiotics, it is so important to make sure your diet consists of lots of prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods to restore your gut health.
THE RECIPES FOR A HEALTHY GUT
Here, Kate shares some of her favourite recipes to promote good gut health.
Green Gut Smoothie (serves one)
This is great for breakfast or as a mid-morning or afternoon snack. An antioxidant-rich and anti-inflammatory smoothie that contains spinach, which is nutrient dense and rich in vitamins and flavonoids, and boost the good, beneficial bacteria in your gut. Also, avocado is packed with vitamin E (another antioxidant) and healthy natural fats. Banana is a prebiotic
- 2 handfuls of spinach leaves
- ½ avocado
- 1 small banana
- 210ml water
- 1tsp of ginger (optional)
- Juice of ½ lime
Blend all the ingredients until it is thick, smooth and creamy and serve.
Homemade Granola (serves 4)
A great breakfast item to start the day with a gut-friendly, immune-boosting, meal
- 50g oats
- 1 egg white
- 150g mix of almonds, cashews, pecans, chopped
- 50g coconut oil
- 50g maple syrup
- 40g ground flaxseed
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 200g natural Greek yogurt
- Handful of raspberries/blueberries
Preheat the oven to 100C/fan 80C.
Slowly heat the coconut oil, maple syrup and cinnamon until the maple syrup is melted. Remove from heat and add vanilla extract, stir well. Set aside and let cool.
Once mixture is cool, add the egg white and mix well. In a bowl add the oats, nuts and flaxseed and add the cooled mixture, stir well.
Separate the mixture into small ‘mounds’ on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for approximately 1-1.5 hours, until golden. Turn 2-3 times.
Allow to cool and serve with Greek yogurt and handful of berries of choice.
Chicken Soup (serves four)
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2 boneless chicken thighs, diced (free range/organic if possible)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 750ml water
- 3 carrots, chopped
- 1 medium sweet potato, chopped
- 1 head of broccoli, chopped
- 1 tsp ginger, chopped
- 1 tsp fresh herbs, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
In a large pan, sweat the onion and garlic with the chicken until golden brown.
Add the remaining ingredients (leave the herbs till later), and simmer on a low heat for approximately 60-75 minutes.
Season, and add the fresh herbs before serving.
Sweet Potato and Chickpea Stew (serves four)
- 400g sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
- 130g kale
- 1 x 400g can tomatoes, chopped
- 1 x 400g can chickpeas, drained
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 225ml water
- Pepper to taste
Over a medium heat – gently heat up a deep saucepan with the oil. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes.
Add cumin and cook for 1 minute. Add chickpeas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and water.
Stir and place a lid on top of the saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low heat. Cook for 15-20 minutes.
Add kale and pepper. Stir and cover. Cook for 10 minutes.
Is this the latest food trend? Demand for Eastern European yoghurt drink Kefir has soared 400 per cent in 18 months due to healthy Brits wanting to look after their gut
A yoghurt-like milk drink containing ‘gut-friendly’ bacteria looks set to be one of the major food trends of 2020 after sales dramatically rocketed in the last year.
Until recently kefir was a niche dairy product in the UK – bought mainly by Eastern European shoppers a region where it is very popular.
But now demand for the drink has begun soaring with Britain’s largest supermarket Tesco seeing a 400 per cent rise in the last 18 months.
And food experts believe that could be down to Brits opting to go more health-conscious and praising the probiotic qualities of kefir as the drink contains 40 types of gut-friendly bacteria as well as being a rich source of protein, calcium and vitamins.
While yoghurt is probably the best-known probiotic food in the Western diet, kefir is often a better source of this ‘good’ bacteria.
Yoghurt-like milk drink Kefir containing ‘gut-friendly’ bacteria looks set to be one of the major food trends of 2020 after sales dramatically rocketed in the last year
Speaking to FEMAIL, Tesco Dairy Drinks buyer Vicky Smith said the growth is largely due to people focusing on their gut health.
‘Shoppers are really switching on to gut-health and demand for kefir is now so strong that in the last few years we have nearly doubled our range and we have plans to add more this year.
‘Its popularity has been building, mainly by word of mouth, on a monthly basis to the extent that we now stock seven different drinks as well as four yoghurt variants.
And it’s not just Tesco that’s seen a surge in demand. This week Leon announced the launch of two kefir shots and prebiotic preserves, created to enjoy at home as part of its exclusive partnership with Sainsbury’s.
The ‘natural fast food chain’ say that each single 100ml portion has more than 50 billion live bacteria and 16 different diverse culture strains.
Until recently kefir was a niche dairy product in the UK – bought mainly by Eastern European shoppers a region where it is very popular. But now demand for the drink has begun soaring with Britain’s largest supermarket Tesco seeing a 400 per cent rise in the last 18 months. Popular brand include The Collective (left) and Yeo Valley (right) who sell the drink
Kefir’s name originates from the Turkish word keyif, meaning ‘good feeling’. But the origins of the kefir grains themselves — gelatinous white curds, which look a little like cauliflower cheese before it goes in the oven — are more mysterious.
Legend has it that they were a gift from the Prophet Muhammad to the people of the Caucasus Mountains near the Black Sea, who were forbidden to share their secrets.
Today, it is thought that the grains formed spontaneously when milk stored in leather bags took on natural bacteria and yeasts and began fermenting — rather like how a sourdough ‘starter’, used to make bread, forms if flour and water are left to collect wild yeasts.
The grains were cultivated and passed down the generations and for 2000 years kefir was a well-kept health drink secret enjoyed mainly by people in the Caucasus Mountains where it originates and in parts of eastern Europe where it is still extremely popular.
While yoghurt is probably the best-known probiotic food in the Western diet, kefir is often a better source of this ‘good’ bacteria. Stock image shows woman driking Kefir
It became easier to find in the UK at the start of the noughties when Tesco began stocking it as part of its Polish food offering and its now widely available in major supermarkets.
Word about its health-giving qualities grew and as demand took off in the last decade the supermarket brought in its first UK kefir producer, Biotiful Dairy and ranged the drinks in its regular dairy aisle.
M&S has previously said 2020 is the year to embrace gut health, and is focusing on ‘digestive wellness’, with a wider range of probiotic food and drink including kefir and kombucha.
BBC Good Food’s Food and Drink report for 2020 saw gut health as a major focus for customers.
Emma Weinbren, features editor at The Grocer said at the time: ‘There are probiotics in everything – we’ve even tried probiotic crisps,’ says Emma Weinbren.
‘In March, we got stats from Kantar that more than 40 per cent of kefir is consumed by over-65s.
‘People think it’s a cool millennial drink but it’s the older generation driving it.’
There are now nearly 10 dedicated kefir manufacturers in the UK with the top-selling brand being Biotiful Dairy who were ahead of the trend when they were formed by former Russian figure skater turned entrepreneur Natasha Bowes.
Natasha said: ‘I grew up in Russia where kefir is a way of life and it is rare for anybody to have problems with their gut.
‘When business brought me to Ireland and then England more than 20 years ago I found it hard to find kefir but then had a lightbulb moment of creating my own dairy.
‘We opened in 2013 and since then we have moved helped widen the appeal of kefir by introducing Morello cherry and honey flavours in order to appeal to kids. And there are further big plans in store for later this year.’