Believe it or not, flu season is right around the corner. Many doctors and pharmacies are starting to advertise that the first batch of the flu vaccine for this year has arrived. So this is the time of year to think about your immune system, and ways to keep it functioning at its highest ability in order to keep you well through the coming months.
I have blogged about digestive health and immunity before, in the context of fighting allergies and other ailments. With the flu becoming more rampant each year, and more people succumbing to it, it is most important that at this time of year we focus on immune health, which means digestive health.
Most of our immunity to disease lives in the digestive tract. So in order to keep your resistance to disease up, your gut needs to be as healthy as possible. Most of us do not get enough fiber in our diets, which leads to digestive problems and a lowered immune response.
The signs and symptoms that you may not be getting enough fiber can include one or more of the following:
Constipation is the classic consequence of not eating enough fiber. Adequate fiber intake plays a role in everything from helping you manage your weight to lowering your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and even some cancers. This could also be a sign of not drinking enough water, so be sure that you are getting at least 50% of your body weight in ounces per day.
Your poop is the wrong shape. If your bowel movements are small or hard, like pebbles, that’s a sure sign you’re low on the fiber intake scale. A “C” or “S”-shape or a straight piece is ideal.
You’re hungry after a meal
Fiber takes up lots of space in your digestive tract. So if your stomach starts rumbling within an hour or two after eating, that’s a sign that you probably didn’t get enough fiber in your meal. Next time, try starting off with a small side salad or a small bowl of vegetable or bean soup. And opt for Romaine lettuce, as its fiber content is higher than most other varieties.
Fiber acts like the broom that sweeps everything in your pipes and keeps it all moving at a smooth and steady pace. Without enough fiber, the products of digestion often get stuck along the digestive tract, leading to backups and bloat. This can also contribute to painful episodes of diverticulitis if you are already susceptible.
You need a post-meal nap
Fiber plays an essential role in helping your blood sugar levels stay stable. When you eat a low- or no-fiber meal, your blood sugar will spike more quickly, resulting also in a quick drop of your level, which will make you feel tired. Instead of a big meal with lots of starchy carbs, opt for a nice salad or fiber-rich soup and some lean protein.
You fail this at-home test
I like to call this the corn test. We all know what happens to corn as it makes its trip through our system. But try swallowing a forkful of corn kernels without chewing them and seeing how long it takes for them to make their way out. This little at-home test will give you a good idea of whether food is passing through your digestive system at a healthy rate, and whether you’re getting enough fiber. If you spot the kernels in your stool within 18 hours, all is well. If it takes longer than that, you probably need more fiber and to up your water intake.
Experiencing any of the above? What should you do?
Women need 25 to 30 grams of fiber daily, men need slightly more. If you suspect that you aren’t getting enough, try gradually adding more fiber-rich foods into your diet. Just keep in mind that if you go full speed ahead (instead of gradually adding these foods into your daily intake), you may have to deal with gas, pains, and bloating.
What foods are fiber rich?
Take a look at the picture at the top of this blog and use it as a basic guide. Whole fruits and vegetables, especially dark green leafy ones, along with whole grains, beans, and nuts are the best sources for good, healthy fiber. And again, if you are not accustomed to eating these fiber rich foods, begin by adding them slowly to avoid additional digestive upset as your body gets used to having more fiber.
And skip out on the fiber supplements, which often can cause stomach upset and bloating. Unlike a pill or drink, fiber-containing foods deliver an entire package of beneficial nutrients, without all of the added and often artificial ingredients you might find in a fiber supplement.