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Gut Health and Your Immune System

Rainbow Fruit Veggies
Rainbow Fruit Veggies
Kelsey Cheyne

Kelsey Cheyne

Executive Director, Canadian Digestive Health Foundation

Canadian Digestive Health Foundation shares different ways to support gut health and defend your immune system against unwanted infections.

When you get an infection or become sick, a healthy immune system helps you fight infections and heal wounds. Did you know having a healthy gut plays an important role in having a strong immune system?

Your gut is the “gatekeeper” of your health

All along the walls of your intestines, a single layer of cells forms the boundary between what’s in your gut and what gets absorbed and circulated to the rest of the body. These cells, together with the mucosal layer, gut microbiota, and immune system, make up the gut barrier and offer three levels of defence against disease-causing microbes. 

Having a diverse diet consisting of a variety of foods will provide your body with the nutrients it needs for a healthy immune system.

What is a healthy, diverse diet? 

Following a healthy eating pattern such as the one from Canada’s Food Guide will help get the nutrients you need. Food provides protein, healthy fats, antioxidants, and many vitamins and minerals that are essential for the proper functioning of the immune system. These nutrients include: 

  • Vitamin A: Kale, spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, cantaloupe, and mango
  • Vitamin B6: Potatoes, beans, meat, chicken, and fish
  • Vitamin B9: Peas, lentils, spinach, asparagus, beets, romaine lettuce, and enriched grain products such as pasta and bread
  • Vitamin B12: Lean meats, poultry, fish, dairy products, and eggs
  • Vitamin C: Orange juice, red peppers, broccoli, and strawberries
  • Vitamin D: Cow’s milk, margarine, fatty fish like salmon and sardines, and egg yolks
  • Zinc: Oysters, beef, pork, cheese, turkey, baked beans, and canned lentils
  • Iron: Animal foods, plant foods, and iron fortified products (like breads, pastas, and cereals)
  • Copper: Shellfish, seeds and nuts, oysters, beef, and liver
  • Selenium: Canned tuna, roasted pork, eggs, and brazil nuts

Further to this, some types of foods and components can be of particular interest, helping to nourish and strengthen the gut microbiota, as well as protecting the gut barrier.

  • Fermented foods with live cultures, such as kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and yogurt may help increase the diversity of the gut microbiota.
  • Fermented foods that contain certain probiotics, such as kefir and some probiotic yogurt, can have additional benefits that contribute to a healthy gut microbiota. 
  • Prebiotics, some of which are type of dietary fibre found in vegetables and fruit or concentrated in supplements, help feed and stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut and enhance a strong gut barrier.

A rich diverse diet with a variety of foods, including certain fermented foods, probiotics, and prebiotics, are important in helping us meet our nutrient needs and support the proper function of the immune system and gut microbiota. 

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