From eating fermented foods to increasing fibre intake, discover expert advice on how you can stay well this winter – by taking care of your tummy

Along with the winter months comes the season of coughs, colds and flu. This year more than ever, we need to do all we can to boost our natural defences — and nutrition plays a vital role. However, before you reach for the vitamin C tablets, you might be surprised to learn that when a client is looking to boost their immune system, I start by supporting their gut. 

The digestive tract is where we break down and absorb nutrients from our food, which are then sent through the bloodstream to nourish all of the cells in the body. You could eat the healthiest diet imaginable, but if those digestive processes aren’t working well enough, you won’t be reaping the benefits. We also now know that 70–80% of immune cells reside in the gut, and the trillions of bacteria that live there play a huge role in regulating our immune response. So if you want to avoid catching seasonal illnesses, your tummy is a great place to start.

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My top five tips for keeping your gut and your immune system healthy

1. Eat the rainbow

Aim to eat a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables each day. Not only will this deliver a wide range of nutrients, but it will also help keep your friendly gut bacteria happy. In the same way that you and your friends might have different food preferences, so too do different strains of bacteria — so maintaining a varied diet helps keep them all healthy. A great way to boost your daily vegetable intake is to make some warming soups, packed full of fibre and nutrients. 

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2. Try to hit your fibre target

It is recommended that adults in the UK consume 30g of fibre every day, but many of us are falling short. Fibre feeds our gut bacteria and has also been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect. Focus on whole, minimally processed foods including fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, complex carbohydrates such as brown pasta, rice and bread, as well as grains like quinoa and buckwheat.

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3. Include fermented foods and drinks in your daily diet — little and often

These include kombucha and kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, natural yoghurt, miso and tempeh — ensuring they are unpasteurised and bought from the fridge or chiller aisle. Fermented foods contain live bacteria that travel through your gut and support the friendly bacteria that live there. If you haven’t tried them before, it’s important to start slowly and gradually build up your intake as the bacteria can cause some minor digestive symptoms at first. 

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4. Reduce your refined sugar intake

Sugar can inhibit growth of friendly bacteria and promote growth of more harmful strains. Excess sugar intake can also lead to intestinal hyperpermeability (“leaky gut”), which allows undigested food and toxins to escape from the gut and into the bloodstream where they cause inflammation, stress and increased burden on the immune system. Choose wholegrain carbohydrates and starchy vegetables such as sweet potato and butternut squash, which are more nutrient-dense, lower in refined sugar and higher in fibre than white pasta, bread and rice. Also try to ensure that biscuits, sweets and cakes are an occasional treat rather than a habitual snack. 

5. Check your vitamin D levels

Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to increased susceptibility to picking up infections — and a lot of us in the UK are deficient. It has also been linked to certain digestive problems. There are a few food sources of vitamin D, such as oily fish, whole milk and egg yolk, but our primary source is sunshine. Unfortunately, during the winter months of October through to March the sun is not strong enough to deliver a sufficient dose and the UK government advises adults to supplement with 10 micrograms daily during this period. However, for an optimum dose it is always best to have your levels tested. 

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The good news is that by adopting a diet packed full of nutrients to support your gut and your immune system, you stand a better chance at keeping healthy throughout the winter — and if you do catch something, you’re more likely to experience milder symptoms and fight it off more quickly. 

For more information visit lmnutrition.co.uk or email: laura@lmnutrition.co.uk