New evidence reinforces the fact that increasing salad intake — NOT avoiding it — is key to protecting yourself and your family from foodborne illnesses. It may seem counterintuitive, but if you avoid the produce aisle because of fears about foodborne bacteria, you’re actually putting yourself at MORE risk, not LESS.How so? Because the protective bacteria in your gut thrive on fiber; starving them leaves you defenseless against bad bacteria, like salmonella and E.coli.

This was again demonstrated in a recent study published in the journal Epidemiology and Infection. Australian researchers compared dietary data with rates of gastroenteritis, or stomach flu, which is characterized by inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in diarrhea.Given that infection is often transmitted through water contamination, the study focused on a population that used rainwater as their primary water source. Turns out that eating salads prepared at home conferred significant protection against gastroenteritis — reducing risk by 67%. By contrast, eating beef increased risk by 174%. In addition to salads, you can strengthen your intestinal immunity by eating Prebiotic foods like asparagus, onions, artichokes and bananas.In fact, the prebiotic fiber (think Miracle-Gro for good gut bugs) in bananas is likely responsible for reducing dysentery symptoms among children by 60%. Also make sure to practice food safety in the kitchen, washing dishrags and sponges often, thawing frozen food in the fridge, keeping poultry/meat separate from produce in grocery bags, and washing fruit and vegetables with a vinegar-based water solution.

Bonus: Digging in the sand, and being buried in it, can increase kids’ risk of diarrhea and tummy aches.Take hand sanitizer to clean kids’ hands after sand play, and keep their tummies strong with fruit and veggies.

Published July 1, 2010