Feather duvets, roaring fires, a carpet of red leaves on the deck. I love so many things about winter but already I’m hearing from clients that as the temperature has dived, they’ve fallen out of their sweet spot with diet and exercise. It can take some creative thinking to stay with your healthy diet through winter. So I’ve explored this with a few ‘Hearty but Healthy’ meals below.
If I asked you to point to your immune system where would you point? Any idea? The answer is everywhere!
The immune system is made up of a complex combination of cells, organs, specialised fluid and tissues that span every inch of your body including your digestive system and even your skin. Without you feeling a thing, your lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes filter fluid and monitor for foreign bodies; macrophages then engulf and destroy them if found. Your spleen produces white blood cells (those who have done my live blood analysis have seen them in action!) and immune enhancing compounds, while your thymus is busy making T cells to protect you against bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi.
They all work together to form a system that our bodies rely on for survival. Without an immune system we wouldn’t last long.
There is currently a kind of backlash against sugar as if it’s the root cause of every health problem known to mankind.
It reminds me of the ‘war on fat’ we saw a few decades ago, in the way that marketers and food companies latch on to the thing everyone is trying to avoid and frantically come up with new products. Artificial sweetener is nothing new, but the varieties available, and the everyday products that they are hidden in is quite frightening. When you see ‘sugar free’ on a label, read ‘laced with artificial sweetener’. Anyway, this is not an article about artificial sweetener, although you can probably guess my stance on that.
So why is there such a fuss about sugar? In my grandmothers’ day it was practically touted as a health food. ‘Only 18 calories per teaspoon and it’s all energy!’. In the 60’s, the sugar industry tried to put consumers off the newly invented artificial sweeteners with advertisements claiming all sorts of benefits, from weight loss to curing exhaustion.
Excess sugar instigates inflammation, wrecks havoc with our mood, causes insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, not to mention weight gain. But not many people seem to know about sugars effect on our immune system.
It actually causes a measureable decrease in immunity, suppressing our body’s ability to fight infections from bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi and also to recognise and destroy malignant cells. Yet we continue to eat it in large quantities. In fact the average New Zealander consumes a whopping 138g of added sugar a day! That’s 32 teaspoons and 50.5 kg/year. While we need some sugars in our diet, we as New Zealanders are eating too much – the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines suggest no more than 10 teaspoons of added sugar daily.
A study (the neutrophilic phagocytosis study out of Loma Linda University, California) showed the effectiveness of neutrophils (our most abundant type of white blood cell) was suppressed after ingestion of sugar. That is, their ability to phagocytose (engulf microbes) was reduced. In this study subjects were given 100gm of sugar and after 5 hours a 50% reduction in neutrophil activity was seen. 50%! That is astounding to me. The suppression continued at a lower level for some time. The other interesting result is that the sugar consumed was glucose, sucrose, honey, fructose and orange juice. They all had this effect. So much for orange juice when you’re sick.
So of course it would be very unusual for us to consume 100gm of sugar in one go like they did in this study. For example, that would take consuming a breakfast consisting of a bowl of Nutrigrain with sugar, an Up&Go and a bottle of V energy drink. Teenage boys aside, not many could stomach all that in one sitting. But how about half that amount? I imagine most people wouldn’t find that difficult. We are most probably consuming triple the sugar we should be and our immune systems will be suffering. In effect we are walking around with suppressed immune systems simply because of the food choices we make.
For children this immunity suppression might double the number of colds they get a year. Wouldn’t that make a big difference to your whole family’s lives!
If you catch colds easily, suffer from chronic infections, cold sores or swollen glands, I would highly recommend reducing your sugar intake in the direction of the WHO guidelines. For those who are busy and have resorted to relying on conveniently packaged and pre prepared food this will be a huge change. I understand the difficulty of this in our time poor society. It seems so much quicker to pour cereal than cook an egg. To pop a ‘fruit’ wrap into the lunchbox than to cut up an apple. I’m often told by mums that by the time they’ve organised the kids for school and dropped them off it’s a mad rush to work, where they grab a coffee and a muffin for breakfast. I see a lot of teenagers, energy drink in hand, walking to and from school. It’s all I can do not to shout “please drink water!”. Although there will be a backlash from the kids (and even from yourself if you’re honest) making small weekly changes as a family will lead to big health benefits very quickly.
Here are some healthy switch outs for common sugary culprits:
|Jam/Nutella/honey on toast||Toast with: Egg/tuna/avocado/hummus|
|Sugar added cereal||Porridge|
|Energy drinks/soft drinks/juice||Water or herbal tea|
|Sugar in your coffee/tea||Have without or try natural stevia|
|Ice cream||Frozen banana blended (YUM!)|
|Sugar laden snacks (muffins/slices)||Nuts and seeds|
Immunity is also suppressed by lack of sleep (the average person gets 2 hours less sleep than they did in 1990) and stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol (20% in some studies). Poor digestion is also a contributing factor, as is the over-use of antibiotics.
Other foods to consider.
Beware of ‘fruit’ claims – fruit wraps and juices are the worst culprits.
Yoghurts – often contain huge amounts of sugar. Go for plain style instead.
Muesli bars – Of the dozens on our supermarket shelves, I can’t find one I’d recommend eating daily. Eat nuts and seeds instead.
Smoothies – these often contain more fruit and high sugar yoghurt than is appropriate in one sitting. Have a green smoothie instead.
Hearty but Healthy – meals to satisfy the need for comfort food this winter.
CROCK POT GOODNESS MISO GLAZED SALMON