If you’re looking for a much-needed boost to your immune system, most of us are familiar with the benefits of ‘probiotics’ in foods that help balance the good bacteria in our guts. What is less understood are ‘pre-biotics’ in foods. This is despite emerging evidence that prebiotics – including resistant starch found in whole grain, high fibre grain foods and legumes – have the potential for the same effects, acting in a similar way to probiotics, according to the Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council™ (GLNC).
The science is clear that diet plays a significant role in our ability to resist infections, but many of us don’t understand why, and what foods are going to effectively help our immunity to ward off illness.
‘Enjoying a balanced diet including foods rich in prebiotics helps to feed our immune system to fight and avoid common infections like cold and flu,’ explains Chris Cashman, Nutrition Project Officer at GLNC – the authority on the nutrition and health benefits of grains and legumes.
‘In the same way as regularly consuming probiotics, enjoying a range of whole grain or high fibre grain foods, legumes and a variety of vegetables may also enhance immune health,’ Chris adds. ‘This is through a prebiotic effect – an increase in the balance of beneficial bacteria in the digestive system which provide a range of health benefits including improved immune responses.’
Here’s how nutrition can support immune health.
Protect against infection with probiotics
It’s well known that the balance of bacteria in the digestive system – the gut – is important to protect against infection. A top-up of live beneficial bacteria, probiotics, can be achieved by consuming lactobacilli and bifidobacteria strains of probiotics in fermented foods, such as yoghurts and some fermented milks. These have been found to support the immune system. It’s now emerging that prebiotics have the potential for the same effects.
Boost your immunity with prebiotics
Prebiotics are special types of dietary fibres, which ferment in the digestive system. This fermentation helps to feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut, improving the composition and/or activity of lactobacilli, bifidobacteria and other bacteria species (probiotics) that produce protective components and deliver health benefits. One interesting prebiotic is resistant starch, with studies promising that this type of dietary fibre has greater potential to ferment in the digestive system, and so may have greater potential to enhance immune responses and protect the digestive system.
Create balance with foods containing prebiotics
A range of common foods recommended in the Australian Dietary Guidelines contain an array of prebiotic fibres. These foods include legumes such as peas, chickpeas, lentils and beans, as well as whole grain and high fibre grain foods containing wheat, rye, barley, oats, brown rice and certain fruits and vegetables. Enjoying these within a balanced diet may support the balance of bacteria and potentially improve immune function.
For more facts about immune health visit www.glnc.org.au