Boosting immune system with our diet

Food is our fuel and a powerful ally to stay healthy and raise our energy level.

Research is expanding our understanding of the immune-boosting potential of a range of nutrients. This brings back to our table foods whose benefits have long been known, and adds new items in our dietary habits.

From “one apple a day” to the latest insight into our gut bacteria, our diet can help us boost our immune system and adapt to the changing season. What kind of advice should your employees look at to upgrade their grocery list for the coming months?

Antioxidants-rich foods such as apples, broccolis and berries have long been known for their virtues. In the long term they protect us from the risk of a range of diseases including diabetes, heart disease and cancer. They also have more immediate benefits as their vitamins and fibres are excellent fighters of colds and flus.

While most of us know that vitamins should be integrated in our diet, recent research has shed light into the less-known role of fibres in protecting us from diseases.

What’s new about fibres?

Not all fibres are the same but complex fibres, which are fibres from indigestible carbohydrates such as the ones contained in certain vegetables and fruits, have been revealed to play an essential prebiotic role in maintaining beneficial bacterial species in our gut microbiota. And a healthy gut microbiota is today recognised as being largely responsible for our overall physical and mental health.

What is our gut microbiota?

Gut microbiota (or gut flora) refers to the microbe population living in our intestine (tens of trillions of microorganisms, including at least 1000 different species of known bacteria). Its composition evolves throughout our lifetime under the impact of different factors, and among them our diet has a strong influence in enhancing or compromising its functioning.

How does it benefit us?

Some of its microorganisms are responsible for fermenting dietary fibres in short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), and among them the butyrate, that are extremely beneficial to us as main source of energy for cells in the colon and for their potent anti-carcinogenic and anti-inflammatory properties.

What foods will maintain our microbiota in balance?

There is no single answer as the composition of our gut microbiota is extremely individual: only one third of our gut microbiota is somehow common to humans, while two thirds are specific to each one of us.

Tips for a healthy grocery list

Berries – in particular blueberries, but also cranberries, strawberries, goji and acai berries - are particularly rich in vitamin C and E that work well in combination to protect us from infectious diseases. (And coupled with yogurt, they provide a delicious energy booster).

Herbs are increasingly recommended in our prevention routine, from energising herbs such as ginseng and angelica, or antioxidants such as cinnamon, oregano and basil, to cold-reliever such as thymus.

The use of Shiitake mushrooms - for culinary and medical purposes - is spreading from Asia to the rest of the world, while research is shedding light into their antitumor, antiviral and antibacterial properties.

Fermented foods such as yogurt (that could be coupled with berries above), kefir and cottage cheese or fermented soya, miso and Sauerkraut for non-dietary alternative to maintain your gut healthy and powerful


This means we all have to try and identify what works best for us. The best recommendation is to adapt variety while introducing in our diet a range of fermented foods (yogurt, cottage cheese, kefir or non-diary based miso and fermented tofu), and vegetables and fruits (in particular artichokes, cruciferous vegetables, such as broccolis and cauliflowers, and bananas).

Gut Microbiota and Health Section of the European Society for Neurogastroenterology & Motility (ESNM)
Role of the normal gut microbiota, World Journal of Gastroenterology:
The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-term Health - by Stanford’s researchers Justin Sonnenburg , Erica Sonnenburg  - More on Sonnenburg Lab research at: