I hope everybody had a great Halloween. I’m sure there’s a whole lot of snackin’ going on, with the abundance of candy and sugary treats that most people either bought or collected over the last few weeks. Now that Halloween is over, we have Christmas coming up very quickly, with even more tempting sugary treats all around — and before we know it we’ll be smack-dab in the middle of cold and flu season: a bad combination.
Remember, just because a cold or flu is going around, doesn’t mean you have succumb to it! I truly believe we have been given everything in nature to keep our immune systems strong enough to completely avoid getting sick. I therefore want to take this opportunity to give you a few tips to help counteract the negative effects of sugar consumption during the holiday season!
The first thing I want to explain is why and how sugar compromises the immune system. In order for me to demonstrate this I’m going to have to talk about white blood cells and something called neutrophils. Neutrophils are the most abundant white blood cell in the body — cells of the immune system involved in defending the body against infections. They account for approximately 50-70% of all white blood cells. During the beginning phase of acute inflammation, as a result of infection, neutrophils are one of the first-responders who rush to the scene. These highly active and motile cells are known for their ability to ingest microorganisms, meaning through the action of phagocytosis, they ingest harmful particles and bacteria. They also ramp up inflammatory reactions — which is a good thing because not all inflammation is bad. We need inflammation. Like, when we have a fever, it’s evidence that the immune system is revved up and working. It’s the body’s way of heating up to kill an infection. There was this really important study that came out years ago that showed a significant decrease in neutrophil activity after the consumption sugar — which means, when we consume sugar, the immune system can’t do its job to fight infection. Sugar literally paralyzes the immune system! Sugar also makes our bodies more acidic, which is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and viruses to thrive and take over.
The second thing I want to talk about is digestive health. Did you know that 80% of the body’s immune system can be found in the gut? And by gut I’m of course referring to the small and large intestine. The digestive tract’s immune system is often referred to as gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) and works to protect the body against foreign invaders. The intestine possesses the largest mass of lymphoid tissue in the human body and it’s made up of several types of immune cells that defend us against pathogens. This means that by supporting our digestive health, we directly strengthen our immune system!
Now that Halloween is over maybe not all of us succeeded in avoiding sugary treats … but is there anything we can do after the fact? Absolutely! And it’s called probiotics! Probiotics have numerous health benefits. These live microorganisms help eat and breakdown sugar; they facilitate the absorption of nutrients and vitamins from our food, and they alter the acidic environment in the intestine to create less desirable conditions for harmful organisms to survive. In my opinion, the best source is from a high quality, multi-strain probiotic supplement. These can be found in the refrigerated section of many health food stores. You want to look for one containing a minimum of 10 billion active bacteria per capsule. For those not keen on taking supplements, there are also many food source probiotics. Anything that has been fermented or cultured also contain these beneficial bacteria. The most common probiotic food source is of course is yogurt. Not all yogurt however, are equally beneficial. Some producers pasteurize the yogurt after the cultures are added, which kill off the bacteria during the pasteurization process. Yogurt should contain nothing but milk ingredients and active cultures, but many of these products contain huge amounts of sugar, fructose and a monstrosity of chemicals, additives and preservatives. The vast amounts of sugar in these products encourage the growth of pathogenic organisms like candida, resulting in no probiotic benefit at all. True probiotic yogurt should only be plain and unsweetened. To improve the taste and add additional health benefits, add cinnamon, flax seeds, hemp seeds and walnuts, but please do not be tricked into thinking your fruit bottom yogurt is a probiotic- no matter what the packaging or commercials tell you. Kefir, a type of fermented yogurt that can be made from either cow, goat or sheep’s milk, as well as from plant sources such as soy, rice, almonds and coconut is probably one of the best options. Always check the label to see that your yogurt or kefir contains live and active cultures; one tablespoon should contain at least 5 billion bacteria, minimum. Many of these non-dairy yogurts are available in health food stores or can be found in the natural and organic sections of larger supermarket chain stores. Other probiotic food sources include sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kimchi and kombucha. Even naturally-fermented pickles have probiotic properties!
Of course I can’t talk about probiotics without mentioning prebiotics. Prebiotics are indigestible dietary fibre that triggers the growth of beneficial bacteria. Prebiotics are basically food for probiotics; they stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract. Probiotics and prebiotics have a symbiotic relationship. Consuming them both on a regular basis will allow them to work better and more efficiently. Foods that act as prebiotics are whole grains, bananas, apples, onions, garlic, honey, green beans, leeks, artichokes, asparagus, oats, chicory, flax seeds, burdock and dandelion root.
Other things we can do to help keep our immune system strong over the holiday season: eat your leafy greens, avoid acid forming foods like refined or processed grains and excessive meat consumption, drink clean filtered water, breathe deep, sleep well and give thanks and love in abundance! ♥