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The Herts and Essex Observer and The Harlow Star.
With autumn upon us and winter around the corner, I thought this was the perfect time to share nutrition and lifestyle tips for strengthening your immune systems and fending off those nasty winter bugs.
Each week, I’ll be focusing on a different nutritional or lifestyle aspect of immune function and giving you top tips to ensure your immune system is perfectly primed for the winter onslaught.
This week, I’m going to be highlighting the role of sugar and its impact on immune performance.
Sugar : The Great Offender
When advising clients on dietary management of immune function, the first topic up for discussion is always the sugar content of their diet. Surprisingly, few people are aware of the detrimental effect of sugar on immune performance. A 100g intake of sugar (in the form of glucose, glucose-fructose syrup and sucrose in sugary snacks and refined carbohydrates, and fructose in fruit, honey and fruit juices) directly reduces the ability of our immune cells to fight infection, and the higher the dose of sugar ingested, the greater the adverse impact on immune cell activity.
So, the next time you’re feeling peckish and reach for a biscuit – think again - you are not doing your immune system any favours! Try snacking on protein-rich foods instead, like nuts and seeds or wholegrain rice cakes covered with nut spreads (e.g. Merdian hazelnut or almond or cashew nut butter) or a boiled egg; these protein-rich snacks are low in sugar, and due to their protein content, help you feel fuller for longer, so will stave off those sugar cravings.
When Infection Strikes
Interestingly, studies show that fasting for the first 24 hours of an infection increases the activity of our immune cells by up to 50%, thereby improving our chances of fighting off the offending bugs. However, although this is a good initial strategy, it is important to return to normal eating after this point in order to ensure the nutritional sustenance of immune cells which require good nutrition to perform their bug-fighting activities.
Sugar Substitutes: The Dos and Don’ts!
There are a large number of sugar substitutes on the market, which fall into three general categories:
I would recommend avoiding artificial sweeteners entirely. These are man-made substances which carry a multitude of health concerns, having been implicated in cancer, weight gain, obesity, and insulin resistance.
Sugar alcohols have the suffix “ol” at the end of their name e.g. xylitol, sorbitol, malitol, to name but a few. They are not as sweet as sugar and generate fewer calories in the body, partially because they are not completely absorbed in the digestive tract. However, eating lots of foods containing sugar alcohols causes abdominal gas, bloating and diarrhoea, so they are not entirely practical. Also, in the case of malitol, they can cause blood sugar spikes so are ill advised for healthy blood sugar management.
Xylitol,in its pure form, is one of the best sugar alcohols, since it does not cause blood sugar spikes and, research suggests, it can help fight tooth decay. It is therefore recommended in moderation.
Natural sweeteners such as honey and agave syrup may appear a healthier choice but are packed full of fructose and many are also highly processed and therefore nutrient poor. Since fructose promotes fat storage, especially in the liver and belly area, and disrupts the appetite-control system, these sweeteners can be a recipe for disaster.
Pure honey in its raw form does have many health benefits when eaten in moderation so I would recommend this variety over its highly processed counterparts.
And so to Stevia
Stevia, a sweet herb derived from the leaf of the South American stevia plant, is completely safe in its natural form and can be used to sweeten most dishes and drinks. However, be aware that Truvia, available in most supermarkets, and marketed as a stevia sweetener, contains only certain active ingredients of the stevia leaf and not the whole leaf itself. There is some debate that separating out certain compounds of the stevia plant and leaving behind others may interfere with the way our bodies metabolise this substance and hence may be disruptive to metabolic processes. The jury is out, but in the meantime, I would recommend opting for the natural whole leaf variety, available online through the large internet sales sites.
Juliet Schaffer from Evolve Nutrition is a fully qualified and accredited Nutritional Therapist with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Medicine. If you are seeking nutritional advice regarding a specific health concern, or would like guidance for achieving and maintaining a health-promoting diet, take the option of a free 20 minute telephone consultation to see how professional nutritional advice can benefit you. Check out Evolve Nutrition’s website at www.evolve-nutrition.co.uk for contact details or phone 01279 726640 to book a free initial telephone consultation.
Juliet Schaffer, Nutritionist, Evolve Nutrition