Dr. Lee, the Healthy Professor

Nutrition Adjustment for Winter

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The winter season and the typical events that occur throughout the winter (Christmas, New Year's, challenges of snow storms and cold weather, school assignments, exams and the excitement of our winter sports – to name a few) create significant challenges to the immune system. When the immune system challenges become excessive it manifests in the form of some type of illness. Illnesses ranging from the common cold and flu to more serious conditions leading to cancer and heart disease.

If you develop and maintain a healthy immune system there is no reason for your body to participate in the so-called flu and cold season. In fact it might be more correct to refer to it as the "weakened immune system season".

Please appreciate that the "immune system" is not like any other system (cardiovascular, respiratory or digestive systems) in the body. You can’t see it nor localize it. It is really just a term to express all of the mechanisms your body uses to protect and defend itself from the invasions of bacteria, viruses and toxins from the outside world.

Immune system strength is determined by the food you eat and your responses to the "stresses of life" (the neural-humoral connection). The food you eat provides the building blocks for healthy cells that are the most significant part of healthy immunity. During the "busy-season" and the various celebrations we enjoy, often the food choices and other lifestyle habits are not optimal.

To enjoy a healthful, illness-free, high-energy winter, think about forward planning your food choices so they become part of your lifestyle. Don’t let "lifestyle" dictate convenient, less healthful food choices. Appreciate the fact that your current state of health is supported by your lifestyle. To change your health and ill-health risks you must change your lifestyle. "Magic Bullet" products and quick fixes will not endure.

Nutrition Choice # 1

Eat enough protein to support optimal health and chosen lifestyle activities. You require approximately 0.75 to 1.25 grams of protein per pound of body weight depending on your physical activity level. (I know that is higher than conventional recommendation, but trust me - it works).

As many know I advocate an eating plan of 40% carbohydrate, 30% protein and 30% carefully chosen fat. A caveat is to understand that you only effectively absorb 30 to 35 grams (5 oz steak = 35 gms) of protein per meal or snack so it is necessary to distribute your consumption though-out the day. Eat some protein in every meal and every snack. There is recent evidence that (at least in the Western world it is recent) at least 30 grams of your daily protein should come from soy to provide adequate "isoflavanoids" to help build and protect the immune system.

Nutrition Choice # 2

Select low glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates and avoid those easy to digest high starch and sugar products. GI is a measure of how fast blood sugar rises after eating - sugar = GI of 100 whereas peanuts = GI of 15. That means peanuts raise blood sugar at rate of only 15% of that created by white sugar, lower is better.

Fast rising blood sugar means the pancreas produces or over produces insulin. Spikes in insulin production and chronically elevated insulin weakens the immune system and interferes with the production of the "Super hormones" that control many of our other hormones. If you eat low GI carbohydrates, combined with adequate protein and eat some of the protein first, you will control your insulin and be a friend to your immune system.

Nutrition Choice # 3

Consume adequate "essential fatty acids" (EFA’s) from nuts, seeds, fish, cold pressed oils and supplements. EFA’s are the building blocks for the "super hormones". Low fat, and high carbohydrates diets put you at risk.

Nutrition Choice # 4

Understand that nutritional supplementation is no longer an option but a necessity, if you wish to have optimal health and protect your immune system. On the average we eat less that ½ the Calories that our relatives ate in 1900 (1900 = 3800 Calories, today = 1800 Calories).

And much of the food eaten today has a lower nutritional density. Remember that in 1900 "everything" was ORGANIC. In addition, modern life has dramatically increased the risks of Free Radical damage through the chemicals and toxins in our air, water and food supplies.

Numerous reputable research papers and books have demonstrated that the protective levels of the three major anti-oxidant nutrients (beta carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E) are much higher than we can expect to receive from any typical diet. Estimated protective levels of beta-carotene and other carotenoids has been estimated at 50,00O i.u. (30 mg) per day, the equivalent of 6½ average carrots or 5½ sweet potatoes EVERY DAY.

The suggested protective levels for vitamin C are in excess of 1,000 mgs per day, the equivalent of 15 average oranges EVERY DAY, assuming the oranges contained vitamin C – some don’t.

The suggested protective level for vitamin E is at least 400 i.u., equivalent to 19 cups of almonds or 2.1 cups of soybean oil. I think these examples demonstrate the difficulty one would have in receiving protective levels of essential anti-oxidants from any average diet. Many other examples of such difficulty are available.

The anti-oxidants mentioned above are merely the most publicized examples available. Other significant anti-oxidants include grape-seed extract, selenium, coenzyme Q10 to mention a few.

Anti-oxidants are known as "Free-Radical" scavengers. They combine with Free Radicals to prevent them from being oxidized. Oxidized Free Radicals are the toxic versions and the ant-oxidants basically neutralize them and allow more available oxygen for energy production.

When we exercise we produce more Free Radicals and breath in more oxygen thus increasing the risk of Free-Radical damage. Surveys have shown that up to 40% of marathon finishers become ill in the week following completion. It therefore behooves all heavy exercisers to protect themselves by increasing their ant-oxidant consumption.

Many people have used or heard of herbal remedies as protectors from flu and colds. The expression is that herbs like Echinacea "stimulate" or "support" the immune system. This has lead to the use of these products upon the appearance of symptoms. However it must be understood that herbs are "herbal remedies" or "herbal medicines" and not food.

Echinacea may well stimulate the immune system but if you don’t feed the immune system with protective and constructive nutrients, the effectiveness of herbal remedy will be limited or short lived.

So as the "challenging" season approaches you might consider developing a strategy for a wise and consistent food choices and wise and responsible supplementation along with other smart lifestyle choices like stress reduction, healthy exercise habits and looking after your spirit & soul.

Further Reading

Healthy Immune System
Soy Benefits
Effectiveness of nutritional supplementation