As cold and flu season approaches, many people wonder how to boost their immune system. A wide variety of supplements and promotional products are available, but which natural products help without breaking the piggy bank?

The best way to naturally boost the immune system is through the gut. The gut is full of healthy bacteria, which promotes normal GI function, protects the body from infections, regulates metabolism and digestion, and is home to 70%-90% of immune cells! In other words, a healthy gut means a more robust immune system to fight the common cold & virus. The key to boosting the immune system is to prioritize gut health.

Here are five actionable tips to promote gut health holistically.

Eat gut-friendly foods, including bone broth, resistant starch, fermented foods and high-soluble fiber foods.
Bone broth is incredibly nourishing for the gut and is packed with collagen, minerals and nutrients. Use it to make soups, swap it for the liquid when you make rice or warm and drink a little bit each day.

Resistant starch is another gut-friendly food found in green bananas, cooked and cooled potatoes, rice, plantain flour, tapioca flour and some legumes. Try baking a few potatoes or sweet potatoes on Sunday and eating them throughout the week.

Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, kombucha, kefir, etc., are packed with healthy bacteria that act like fertilizer in a garden for the gut.

High-soluble fiber foods like carrots, winter squash, summer squash, sweet potatoes, yams, potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, parsnips, beets, plantains, taro and yuca are also very nutrient dense & beneficial for the gut.

Get out of “fight or flight” mode.
In today’s world, people are always on the go, but this means they’re not allowing much time for their bodies to enter “rest and restore” mode, which is incredibly important for promoting overall health. Living in a constant state of stress has been proven to harm a person’s health. Try scheduling a few short breaks throughout the workday to take a few deep breaths, go for a short walk, do a short meditation, etc.

Most people know that sleep is vital for overall health, including the immune system. Prioritizing getting to bed at a consistent time each day (including weekends) and waking up at a similar time each day can help those who struggle with sleep. Aim for 6-8 hours of sleep. Exposure to sunlight first thing in the morning can help set the body’s circadian rhythm and improve sleep at night. Other tips for improving sleep include:

  • Exercising regularly.
  • Reducing screen time 2-3 hours before bedtime.
  • Wearing blue light-blocking glasses during the day.
  • Limiting caffeine and alcohol.

Move regularly.
It can be easy to say, “I don’t have time,” but twenty minutes is better than nothing! Moving regularly doesn’t have to mean spending an hour in the gym. Find a form of movement that is enjoyable, whether it’s yoga, biking, CrossFit, walking with a friend, skiing, dancing, etc. Finding ways to make it fun and having accountability buddies helps to make most people more successful with consistency.

Cut down on substances (caffeine, alcohol, sugar, etc.)
In today’s fast-paced world, it’s not uncommon to rely on caffeine, alcohol and sugar to get through the day. Many become dependent on the morning coffee to get their day going, alcohol to relax at night and continuously eat sugar throughout the day. However, these substances can be more harmful than beneficial to hormone and gut health and, therefore, overall health. Limiting these substances leads to more stable energy throughout the day and better health in the long term. Try swapping out the morning coffee for warm water with lemon, bone broth or decaf tea. Avoiding alcohol can improve sleep, and limiting refined sugars can boost energy levels.

Optimal (gut) health is not a light switch, so don’t expect to make all these changes overnight. Most people successfully implement small steps gradually versus multiple drastic changes simultaneously.