Sugar has been on my mind a lot lately. I’m spending more time in Malaysia at the moment and the locals here (I’m technically one too 🙂 ) just LOVE sugar. It’s in just about every food, and there are cake shops everywhere. Even Starbucks has far more varieties of cake available than in the UK.
I have to confess that I had been over-indulging too, and I know from past experience that if I keep that up for too long, it lowers my immunity. No surprises, I came down with a cold. The great news is that my diet as a whole is based on clean and nutrient-dense foods, and I knew exactly what to do to get back on track. As a result, my cold only lasted a day and a half and as I write you, I’m happily feeling back on top once again.
But how exactly does too much sugar affect your immunity?
Sugar Affects Your Immunity
One of the major ways in which sugar affects our immunity is through its impact on Vitamin C.
Many of us are already aware that Vitamin C, also known as ascorbate, plays a role in our immunity. We often talk about taking Vitamin C when we get a cold, for example. Vitamin C is used by our body to help our immune cells (white blood cells) to multiply, and it is these cells that ingest and neutralize pathogenic bacteria and viruses, keeping us healthy, through a process known as “phagocytosis”.
In 1972, Dr. John Ely identified that the level of availability of Vitamin C in our cells determines the rate and intensity of our immune cells to respond when needed, and discovered the “Glucose-Ascorbate-Antagonism” (GAA) theory.
You see, in order for both glucose and Vitamin C to enter our cells, they use what are known as receptors. Because they are chemically configured so similarly, they both use the same receptor – the GLUT-1 receptor. This receptor is activated in response to insulin, which is released when our blood sugar levels rise.
However, the glucose molecules engage much more readily with the GLUT-1 receptors than the Vitamin C molecules. It’s as if Vitamin C is queueing up for the bus (the receptors) and just as it’s about to hop on, glucose comes along, jumps the queue and hops on instead. And then the bus conductor says, “Full up, Vitamin C, move on or wait for the next bus”. This means that the higher your blood sugar, the less Vitamin C enters your cells.
In other words, glucose competes directly with Vitamin C and restricts it from entering your cells. Hence, too much glucose in your system will have a direct impact on your level of immunity.
So the bottom-line is that we do need a slight increase in our blood sugar level, which happens when we eat, in order to facilitate the movement of Vitamin C into our cells, but too much is where the challenge to our immune system comes about.
5 Simple Sugar Swaps
The question now becomes, how do you boost your immunity? Quick answer – reduce the amount of sugar you’re consuming to keep your blood sugar levels more stable, and amp up on your intake of Vitamin C.
Having been a sugar addict, I know how difficult it is to even think about giving sugar up. It’s not necessarily that you haven’t tried, but those “sugar demons” somehow always win out. It’s not necessarily “your fault”, because of the bio-chemical effects that sugar has on your body, the impact of which is far greater than all of the will power any of us can ever muster.
But the good news is, there are some easy and simple swaps that you can start with, beginning today, which will help you to reduce the amount of sugar you’re eating.
Here are 5 ideas.
- Instead of jam on your toast in the morning, try some sugar-free nut butter. I especially love almond butter. Or mash an avocado and season with some Himalayan salt and some black pepper or some chilli flakes and maybe even a squeeze of lime. Plus, if you love coriander (cilantro) as I do, sprinkle a generous bunch on top!
- Swap your bowl of cereals for a bowl of warm porridge oats. Top with a generous dollop of whole yogurt (not the low fat version, because this has a high level of hidden sugar) or milk or coconut milk, and some nuts and a handful of berries. Hold off on the honey or agave syrup though and use the berries to give your oats that sweet taste instead.
- Reduce your fruit intake and have a handful of nuts instead, or a handful of a lower sugar fruit such as berries.
- If you drink fruit juices, then swap these out for pure coconut water. Fruit juices are essentially only the sugars from the fruit without any of the other nutrients, such as fiber, while coconut water is low in sugar and contains electrolytes, and also tastes delicious.
- Cut down on the sugar in your tea or coffee. In fact, try completely going without. You might also swap this for herbal tea instead. There are some herbal teas that have a “sweet” taste to them even though they don’t contain any sugar and I found this immensely helpful when I was going through the process of handling my sugar addiction. Particularly good ones are licorice, mint and chai. My favorite brands are http://www.pukkaherbs.com and http://www.yogitea.com
- OK, so this one isn’t specifically a sugar swap. Eat plenty more Vitamin C rich foods, such as bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, dark green leafy vegetables, cabbage, lemons, limes and sweet potatoes. Many people often think of oranges first up, when they think of Vitamin C. This is good too, but remember, don’t overindulge on fruit as a whole.
What other swap ideas can you think of? As always, I’d love to hear from you, so come on over to the Facebook page and share your thoughts.