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  • Writer's pictureMauren West

Strengthening your defense against viruses: prebiotics and your immune system

Updated: Mar 26, 2020

With the 24-hour COVID-19 news cycle, we all know about washing our hands and keeping physical distance from others. But the question I am hearing from my clients is: can I do anything to my diet to help myself and my loved ones in light of the coronavirus pandemic?

People are often confused by what “diet” they should be following to keep their immune system as strong as it can be. While everyone is unique, and I tailor suggestions and modifications based on each person, there are across-the-board steps we can take to keep our body’s natural defenses as healthy as possible. So, as a nutritionist, my top recommendation is to feed your immune system. The stronger your immune system is, the more ready your body is to fight viruses, colds, flus, etc.

How can you feed your immune system?

Did you know that 70-80% of your immune system is in your gut (GI tract)? It’s mostly attributed to what we call the gut microbiome—where optimally plentiful, diverse, and balanced sources of bacteria, fungi, and yes, even viruses help keep us healthy everyday. An unhealthy microbiome contributes to an immune system that functions below an optimal level—where the bad microorganisms outnumber the good ones. 

And, unfortunately, this is a common occurrence because of our western diet and lifestyle. Nurturing our gut, to find better balance, is one of the best ways each of us can beef up our immune response.   

So, how can you nurture your gut?

I will start with great plant-based nutrition sources. Future blogs will include other healthy options like animal protein and healthy fats that your immune system also loves. 

Plant-based foods that support a healthy microbiome and immune system 

Remember that it’s all about balance—adding foods that promote good healthy microbes while limiting the bad. You can guess the foods that stand in the way of the good ones thriving: sugar, highly processed foods and alcohol are big culprits. But let’s concentrate on the good


Prebiotics are types of dietary fiber that feed the good bacteria in your gut—probiotics. Some foods that are particularly rich in prebiotics are:

  • Garlic, onions and leeks

  • Apples (organic) and bananas

  • Flaxseed (ground) and cacao (raw)

  • Roots including: chicory, burdock, jicama, yacon and konjac

  • Dandelion greens, Jerusalem artichoke, asparagus and seaweed (green)

Simple food ideas for you

Here are some of my favorite ways to incorporate into my own diet, plants that nurture my microbiome:

  • Add garlic to scrambled eggs. Or make a tasty guacamole or other dip. Try this lentil dip that delivers a healthy bonus: it’s anti-inflammatory, too! 

  • Make a soup or bone broth that includes seaweed. Or, use nori in place of bread for a healthy lunchtime wrap. I love mixing sauteed vegetables with Bitchin’ Sauce in my nori wraps.  

  • Mix up some banana pancakes for a super-simple and delicious breakfast. Here’s my go-to recipe: 1 banana, 2 eggs, 1/4 c. almond flour (adjust as needed for pancake consistency). You can also add cinnamon and/or vanilla extract. Then I use coconut oil, ghee or butter for cooking.  

  • Add ground flaxseed to your smoothie or bowl of hot cereal.

  • Make your own hot cocoa: 1 c. unsweetened coconut or almond milk (if you’re drinking dairy, consider drinking organic and whole fat for highest nutrient content), 1 T. raw cacao powder, cinnamon to taste, and a small amount of stevia. 

  • Add 1 T. cacao powder or nibs to your smoothies or shakes.

  • Cut up jicama and add it to salads or even have it on its own with your favorite dip.

  • Add burdock root to a broth or soup.

  • Make a cup of roasted chicory root—a wonderful alternative to coffee. 

I love these foods, but recognize they may not all be your cup of tea. I rely on a clinically-studied prebiotic supplement for anyone who isn’t able to take in enough of these rich foods to fully support a healthy gut. It’s a powder, so it’s easy to mix into a smoothie or even just a glass of water. 

A thorough understanding of your microbiome

Food is a great place to start in nurturing your microbiome to feed your immune system. The tips above apply to anyone looking to enhance the good bacteria in their gut—naturally strengthening their body’s defense against a virus like COVID-19.  

A more personalized approach, however, is what truly heals the gut and sets someone on a path to optimal living according to their body’s unique needs. Each of us requires unique guidance based on many factors including: age, health, gender, genetics, environmental factors, location and more. Because of this, I work with clients to test their microbiome with an easy at-home testing kit and then develop a plan fit to their specific needs. 

Want more individualized help with diet, lifestyle, lab testing and supplements?  

Schedule a free 20 minute consult.

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