Why Fiber Is Essential For Supporting Your Immune Health And Digestion

By Megan Faletra, MS, MPH, RDN

We all know the feeling — you start to feel a little scratch in your throat, or your digestion feels just a bit off and you know you are on the verge of getting sick. But rather than immediately googling “how to boost my immune system” what you really need to do is support your immune system before it comes under attack by yet another winter virus — and fiber is a big part of that process.

How Your Immune System Works

When you think about your immune system what you are referring to is a complex network of organs and cells that have been designed to help protect your body 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from unwanted and harmful infections. The lymphatic system is a part of your immune system and is made up of a vast network of lymph nodes that protect your body by releasing white blood cells (lymphocytes) any time they detect a potential threat to your body. Think of your immune system as your personal army that is always ready and waiting to protect you.

Immune Health And Digestion

We’ve already talked about how your immune system works, but did you know that roughly 70% of your immune system is actually located in your gut? This means that when it comes to supporting and improving your immune health, one of the most important areas that you should be looking at addressing is your gut health.

Gut bacteria actually help your immune system’s T cells develop and determine the difference between a threat and your body. Your gut also has the important job of ensuring that no particles that aren’t supposed to pass through the intestinal lining do. Leaky gut is a condition where the intestinal lining of the gut has been damaged and large food particles or other substances are able to enter into the rest of the body. Once inside the body they are viewed as a threat by the immune system, which can lead to pain, inflammation, and potential food sensitivities.

Because your immune system and digestive system are so interconnected a compromised gut can make you more susceptible to getting run down or getting sick.

How Fiber Impacts Your Immune and Gut Health

Fiber can support your immune health and digestion by encouraging regular bowel movement and providing the “food” for the good bacteria in your gut to feed off of. Like all living organisms, even the bacteria in our bodies need fuel to survive and the fiber in our daily diets is what provides that food.

This good bacteria “food” is known as prebiotics, which can be found in certain types of fiber-rich foods like jackfruit, garlic, and onions. By fueling the “good” gut bacteria with prebiotic fiber-rich foods we can promote better digestive health, immune health, as well as many other promising health outcomes.

What You Can Do Daily To Support Your Immune and Gut Health

Now that you know the many ways in which your immune and digestive system are connected, why don’t we address what you can do on a daily basis to make sure that you are doing everything you can to keep your body feeling its best.

Eat More Fiber

This should come as no shock, but when it comes to supporting both your gut and immune health making sure that you are getting enough fiber is key! On average the dietary guidelines recommend that you consume ~25 grams of fiber per day so make sure you are filling your plate with lots of fiber-rich foods like our personal favorite jackfruit!

Add Prebiotics

Now that you understand how prebiotics support the good bacteria in your gut it is important that you make sure that you are also adding prebiotic-rich foods to your diet every day. Jackfruit is one great option for getting your prebiotics in, as are garlic, onions, bananas, leeks, and asparagus.

Reduce Your Stress

Ever heard of the gut-brain axis? Well, it basically is the way in which your brain and gut communicate with each other all day long. The gut-brain axis is what is responsible for that feeling in your stomach when you are nervous or stressed, and while occasionally this wouldn’t be an issue the fact that most people are experiencing chronic stress today is drastically impacting our overall gut health. When we are stressed we don’t digest our food as well, which over time can lead to issues like an imbalance of the gut bacteria or leaky gut, which as we know can impact our immune health and overall health.

So when it comes to supporting your gut health make sure stress reduction is a main priority — otherwise you will really be fighting an uphill battle.

Drink Enough Water

It is fair to say that most people should be drinking more water. Staying hydrated is essential for helping the body flush unwanted toxins, and keep digestion normal. So if you want to improve your gut health AND keep that cold at bay then drink up!

With these tips in hand, you will be well on your way to supporting your immune health and digestion all year long and will be much more likely to kick those cold symptoms before they even start.