Fall is prime time for sweater weather, PSLs, and, unfortunately, viral illnesses. While there are numerous measures you likely already take to prevent getting sick, from wearing a mask to washing your hands, if you want to further protect yourself, making some simple changes to your diet can help.
But with so many meal plans out there, it's not always easy to determine which is the best diet for your immunity. However, experts say there's a clear winner when it comes to bolstering your immunity: the Mediterranean diet.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
Unlike many restrictive diet plans, the Mediterranean diet isn't about cutting out specific food groups but instead focuses on loading meals with whole foods.
"A Mediterranean-style diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and heart-healthy fats like nuts and seeds, seafood, olives, and olive oil," says Rima Kleiner, MS, RD, a writer for Dish on Fish. "Compared to those who eat a Western-style diet (i.e. American-style eating habits), those on a Mediterranean diet consume far more vegetables, whole grains, and seafood."
How does the Mediterranean diet benefit your immune system?
While the Mediterranean diet is best known for promoting heart health, Kleiner says it's also a great way to give your immune system a leg up.
"Promising research shows this eating pattern may actually improve gut health," Kleiner explains. "Earlier this year, researchers found that adults who consistently followed a Mediterranean-style diet had higher levels of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) and higher levels of bacterial diversity in the gut than those who ate a Western-style diet. Foods in a Mediterranean-style diet help stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria (particularly Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria), which are then fermented in the large intestine by microbes producing SFCA. Both SCFA and diverse beneficial bacteria are important for gut health."
In fact, a 2017 review published in Emerging Topics in Life Sciences found that not only are bifidobacteria beneficial for immunity, reductions in bifidobacterial counts in human digestive tracts often pave the way for immunity issues, including irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, and obesity.
What foods should I avoid to improve my immune system?
While adhering to a Mediterranean diet may benefit your gut microbiome and, in turn, your immune system, there are numerous foods and drinks that could be putting a damper on your immune response.
To stay healthy, "Limit alcohol, which, according to the World Health Organization, weakens the immune system, reducing your ability to fight off germs, including the coronavirus," says Elizabeth Ward, MS, RDN, co-author of The Menopause Diet Plan, A Natural Guide to Hormones, Health, and Happiness.
Ward also notes that refined sugar can have similar effects. "Added sugar should also be avoided because it reduces the ability of immune cells to destroy bacteria," she says.
Ward also recommends cutting out high-sodium foods. "Excess sodium encourages vitamin and mineral loss from the body," Ward adds.
For more simple ways to stay healthy, check out these Popular Foods That Boost Your Immune System, Says Dietitian, and for the latest healthy eating news delivered to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter!
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