How Sugar Damages Your Immune System

As the COVID-19 crisis continues, it is crucial to be distancing ourselves from others and minimising our frequency of outings. However, it may be a tough adaptation for caregivers who now need to cook multiple meals a day, juggle work, chores, and now engaging their children 24/7. 

From a health standpoint, it is very critical for us to be protecting/boosting our immune system and watching what we eat. Under extreme stress we tend to turn to convenient, comfort foods which are often highly processed and filled with refined sugars providing minimal nutritional benefits and in turn suppressing our immune system. 

Studies have shown that over consumption of refined sugars negatively affect your immune system and cause future health complications. 

Let’s take a deeper look into why these highly processed, sugary foods should be avoided and what are the alternatives we could be including in our diets. 

 

1. What is “refined sugar” and how does it impact your immune system? 

Refined sugar is typically found as sucrose, which is a compound created from glucose and fructose. This is the most common sugar used to sweeten cakes, pastries, cereal, juices, pop, cookies, and candies. These refined sugars are even found in less common foods such as salad dressings, sauces, condiments, and your favorite yogurts. All these foods are highly processed and contain minimal nutritional value. 

Sugar is a pro-inflammatory food. It causes inflammation in the body and accelerates aging. Moreover, it acts just like an addicting drug to the brain. Overconsumption of these foods may predispose individuals to health risks including obesity, heart disease, fatty liver disease, and suppressed immune response. 

Learn more about the danger of sugar from Amanda & Bryce

 

2. Where to find hidden sugars. 

Knowing the general population’s negative perception of sugar, marketing teams from some of the biggest food production companies have developed methods to avoid mentioning “sugar” in their labels.  Hence, they use different terms that are perceived to be healthier such as honey, corn syrup, dextrose, molasses, raw sugar, brown sugar, all-natural liquid cane sugar – the list goes on. The reality is that all these sugars have the same negative impact on your immune system and overall health. 

These refined sugars are even found in less common foods such as salad dressings, sauces, condiments, and your favorite yogurts. All these foods are highly processed and contain minimal nutritional value. Take a look at the images below for sugar comparisons between condiments and sweet treats. 

 

3. Let’s understand the science of sugar. 

Sugar is a carbohydrate which has a key function in providing energy for your brain, nervous system, and muscles. Your body begins to digest sugar from the moment it enters your mouth. Once broken down, it enters your stomach, and then your intestine where it is absorbed into the bloodstream. The intestine is followed by the liver which has high sensitivity to sugar levels. The liver plays a crucial role in metabolism, storage of vitamins and minerals, and filtering what enters and exits your bloodstream. It also stores the carbohydrates as a compound known as glycogen – which is a “safety stock” so that your body will always have fuel to function, even when there is no food present. Once the liver glycogen levels are full, the remainder of the carbohydrates consumed are distributed throughout the body to use. 

Excess carbohydrates, including refined sugars, have no use as fuel and can no longer be stored as glycogen. As a result, it is converted and accumulates as fat. This type of fat increases risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. 

 

4. What should you be eating to nourish your immune system? 

We need to be focusing on the essential vitamins and minerals found in vegetables, fruits, and fortified foods as best as we can. At this time, it may be tough to keep fresh veggies in your refrigerator while you are minimising your trips to the grocery store. Luckily vegetables can be found in non-perishable forms such as frozen, dried, and canned. 

If you have a tough time cooking with vegetables, Good Food For Good has many different recipes that do not rely on refined sugars to add flavor to your dishes. Download our recipe books here

 

5. Ditch refined sugar for fruits and natural sugar. 

Fruits, when eaten in moderation, provide energy, increase satiety (fullness), increase fiber intake, along with other nutritional benefits. The key nutrients that you would find from consuming fruit, dairy, and vegetables include: 

  • zinc – fortifies immune function and learning 
  • vitamin c – fortifies immune function, and repair of body tissues 
  • calcium – fluid balance, teeth, and bone health 
  • potassium – regulates blood pressure, protect against strokes, reduce risk of osteoporosis3. 

Fruits also contain high dietary fiber content. Fiber helps solidify fecal bulk, slows glucose absorption (controls sugar spikes), and can help lower blood cholesterol4. Dietary fiber works with the bacteria in your colon, to ensure healthy bowel movements. Mentioned in Dieticians Canada, a healthy diet should consist of 25-28 g of fiber per day. Majority of the population does not need to take supplements for fiber, but rather have a balanced diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains, and seeds. 

It is important to note that many foods claiming to only be sweetened with natural fruit juices or all-natural sugars, can also contain excess sugar. Let's compare! 

sugar is bad for your health, no added sugar ketchup, sugar is harmful

 

An orange soft drink only contains refined sugar. It provides no health benefits and only elevates your blood sugar drastically. This will also lead to a negative effect on your immune system1. 

Orange juice, although it is made of natural sugar, still contains almost the same amount of sugar as the orange soft drink. It contains less than one third of the fiber found in a medium sized orange. The issue with natural fruit juices is that it is extremely easy to over-consume sugar and it does not have enough fiber to slow down the absorption of sugar by liver resulting in elevated blood sugar levels. 

What you will notice is that an orange contains fewer calories, only natural sugar, and benefits from vitamins and minerals. The 3 g of fiber reaches about 10% of your fiber goal, which helps slow down the absorption of the natural sugar and promotes healthy digestion. 

In short, choose a whole fruit vs. juice whenever possible to provide your body with something that will assist with digestion, provide energy, and satisfy your appetite. 

 

 6. Benefits of a Sugar Cleanse. 

Along with cutting down excess calories from your diet, and slimming down your waistline, here are a few more improvements on your health12 

  • Cardiovascular health
  • Immune system health  
  • Sugar cravings will diminish 
  • Decrease in body fat, particularly visceral and abdominal fat 
  • Skin complexion 
  • Gut and digestive health 

 

7. Don’t eradicate, just control. 

Limiting sugar intake can drastically benefit your mental and physical health, in conjunction with decreasing your cravings in the long term. Slowly, you will notice your sugar cravings disappearing, and maintaining this diet will come with ease! If you are having troubles cutting out refined sugars, here are some tips. 

  • Eat your fruits: Find your favorite fruits and always ensure to have some at home to help satisfy your snacking. However, do not overdo it as too much fruit will still cause overconsumption of sugar. 
  • Remove sugar and calorie dense foods:  Be conscious of the foods you are stockpiling, keep your fridge, freezer, and pantry free of non-nutritious, highly processed foods. Leave those foods out of site, out of mind. 
  • When you are thirsty, drink water: Beverages are one of the easiest ways to consume excess sugar without knowing it. A glass of wine or a cocktail once a week is not the end of the world. However 3-4 cocktails, we’re looking at 60-100g of sugar in one sitting. 
  • Focus on satiating foods, rich in proteins, fats and fiber: These foods are nutrient dense, and also provide fullness for prolonged periods of times. 
  • Be conscious about everything: Sugar is hidden in almost all processed foods. 1 table spoon of your standard ketchup has more sugar than 1 chocolate chip cookie; while 1 serving of our Organic BBQ Sauce has about 14g of sugar, which is more than 3 cookies. Be sure to read your labels. 

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