Extra Bites

It may be a little early in the year for thinking about flu, but now is really the best time to arm your body against the little blighters lurking just beyond autumn. 


Firstly, it's essential to get the digestive system working optimally, particularly following a string of summer cocktails. Probiotics are essential, or you might consider going one stage further and giving yourself a thorough cleanse using herbs such as black walnut, pau d'arco or grapefruit seed extract in increasing doses. Coconut oil is also excellent at cleansing your gut and this miracle of nature, rich in lauric acid, also disrupts the lipid membranes of offending organisms and viruses. It is also an excellent tonic for the thyroid but be sure to choose an organic brand that is unrefined.


Now is a good time to stock up on organic fruit and veg, preferrably locally grown. The antioxidants they contain will assist in fighting off pathogens but make sure they are fresh. Tinned just won't cut it. Raspberries and blueberries have a very high antioxidant capacity and therefore act as potent immune boosters. They contain powerful phytochemicals, such as anthocyanin, which is a pigment which gives blueberries its colour. They are also lower in sugar than most fruits, an added benefit to the digestive system which does not thrive when burdened with too many sugars. Include them as part of your regurlar autumn/ winter diet.


Mushrooms are another food which strengthen the immune system, being rich in vitamin C, fibre, B vitamins, protein, calcium and other minerals. They contain powerful compounds called beta-glucans, which possess immune enhancing properties similiar to echinacea and astragalus root. Reishi and shiitake mushrooms are particularly good at activiting as well as modulating the immune system.


Chlorella is another flu-fighting food, it's a single-cell, freshwater algage which is able to bind to toxins in the body, such as mercury, and carries them out of the system. The chlorophyll within chlorella helps the body process oxygen as well as cleansing the blood and promoting growth and repair of tissues. Add a teaspoon to a morning shake to really assist your body during the approaching winter months. 


Propolis, comes from bees, and is one of the most broad-spectrum antimicrobial compounds in the world. It is rich in caffei acid and apigenin, two very important compounds that aid the body's immune response. Include it as part of your winter routine.


Green tea is rich in polypheols, in the form of natural chemicals called catechins, and is also a potent antioxidant. Tulsi tea, from the holy basil herb, is likewise loaded with antoxidants and as well as supporting immune health is also beneficial to memory, heart health and vision. Drink these on a daily basis for optimal health.


Many herbs and spices are of benefit before and during the approaching flu season. Garlic is an incredibly food being an antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal agent. Unlike with antibiotics, offending organisms do not build up resistance to garlic. It also contains allicin, which is anticarcinogenic. In addition, it lowers LDL, total cholesterol, blood pressure, lowers homocysteine and the risk of stroke and blood clots. For best result, eat fresh garlic and daily. 


Immunity from common infections involves not only preventing pathogens from taking hold, but also moderating your immune response to invading pathogens. Plants that modulate the immune response, act as buffers. Some of the best for building a strong immune system are: licorice, turmeric, black pepper, oregano, cinnamon and cloves. Turmeric is in fact around seven times stronger than vitamin C and E and even strong enough to scavenge an hydroxyl radical, consdered to be the most reactive of antioxidants. Oregano's active ingredient is rosmarinic acid, a strong antioxidant, and cinnamon can even kill E.coli and also has anti-inflammatory compounds. Cloves is an excellent anti-inflammatory agent, of particular benefit to sore throats. Keep your cupboards stocked with these herbs.


And if you do manage to contract flu hourly, high doses of vitamin C and zinc are a way to shorten the duration with regular sips of a hot drink comprising: elderflower, yarrow, linden, ginger and peppermint. This will see you right and fighting again! 


A Note about Sugar

Before my daughter started school I kept her diet as sugar free as possible. I relied on fruits, or biscuits sweetened with juice. I gave her juices that had no added sugar and most meals were homemade. I allowed for the odd ‘treat’ but in a way that wouldn’t contribute toward an unhealthy attitude to food in later life, in other words: treats were not given as reward for ‘good’ behaviour. My daughter’s immune system benefitted, she rarely had a cough or a cold, and her temperament remained even, relatively free of the mood swings or sleeping difficulties associated with excessive sugary foods. Then, she started school.

The school had traditional values, intrinsic to a good education. However, these values also extended to menus, to the belief that a child needs a good dose of sugar mid-morning and a good serving of sweet pudding to carry her through the afternoon, leaving poor mum, or dad, to deal with the grumpy, exhausted child, arriving home and demanding more sugary pick-me-ups. I was shocked to find that on hot afternoons ice-creams were served, and at the slightest excuse for a celebration parents were encouraged to bring in cakes. At the Jubilee celebration my daughter claimed she’d eaten five cakes in succession before subsequently, and not surprisingly, having an emotional melt-down on the back seat of the car.

Given that we have these incredibly sophisticated engines to take care of, is it any wonder most adults run like tractors as opposed to Ferraris. The maintenance of a healthy body starts from a young age, the youngest age. Feeding our children empty sugary calories is like filling that expensive Italian car with diesel and expecting it to out-perform the aforementioned tractor. Another analogy might be expecting a crop of vegetables to grow well in polystyrene. Health is a combination of genes and what we eat, but though this appears simple it’s a concept most adults, in particular most parents, or indeed teachers, fail to grasp.

Yet even if parents do grasp the subject, they are continually blighted in their task by food manufacturers, all too aware of sugar’s addictive qualities. The other day I failed to read the label of a Marks and Spencer’s packet of sliced chicken, purchased for a picnic.  Incredulously it too contained sugar. In fact sugar is found in the most unlikely of places: from pasta sauces to soups to the ubiquitous tomato sauce which contains almost as much sugar as ice-cream. It’s often disguised as glucose, sucrose, dextrose or maltose, corn syrup, molasses to name but a few. Yet given that most foods taste just as good without sugar one cannot help presuming sugar is added for it’s addictive properties.

In fact it is estimated that more than 40% of the population has some form of sugar-addiction. Michael Gossop of the National Addiction centre at King’s College, London, describes sugar as a ‘dangerous substance’ with drug-like addictive properties. Like most addictive substance, sugar has a feel good factor. Aside from having no nutritional value, refined sugars break down very quickly in the body. This leaves an excess of glucose in the bloodstream creating a panic situation in the body whereby the pancreas releases a large amount of insulin to compensate and try to store some of the glucose as glycogen. Often there is overcompensation on the part of the body and glucose levels will drop below original baseline levels and the brain will suddenly have too little glucose. This can be observed in children as irritability, tears, sleepiness and nausea accompanied quite often by a craving for more sugar. The sugar low also causes a rise in the hormone cortisol, the so-called stress  hormone which can cause anxiety, and sudden mood changes. Parents after a children’s birthday party may observe this in its extreme and downplay it as their child being exhausted. In fact the child is exhibiting the damaging effects of sugar overload.

In addition sugar consumption will deplete important nutrients such as vitamins A, C, B12, folic acid, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron and chromium, the mineral responsible for stabilising blood sugar levels in the first place, thus reinforcing the problem. As a result of nutrient depletion and a more vulnerable immune system, children tend to pick up colds and viruses more frequently. Excessive refined sugar is damaging to both the liver and kidneys. It increases the risk of obesity, Type II diabetes and heart disease, as well as other immune disorders. Many doctors now believe that sugar does more harm to the body than fat. In February 2011 a report in the journal ‘ Nature’ entitled: ‘Public health: The toxic truth about sugar’ described sugar as not only empty calories but bad calories.

Sugar can also affect a child’s learning ability. Between 1979-1983, New York Schools participated in an experiment. All food products with sugar, artificial sweeteners and dyes where removed from pupil’s breakfast and lunch. Overall grades increased by about 15.7%, while the control group achieved only a 1.7% improvement.  Lastly and obviously, dental carries occur more frequently when sugar consumption is high.

People often feel that sugary foods are a harmless treat or reward for children but nothing could be further from the truth. We are a country struggling with obesity and unhealthy eating habits and it is education at an early stage that can make all the difference. Packed lunches may seem the obvious solution but why should this problem fall into the hands of the parents when we live under a government persistently encouraging us to eat our five-a-day.

Listed below are some of the things parents and perhaps schools can do to encourage healthier eating problems and curb childhood addiction to sugar:

-    Half or quarter the amount of sugar in pudding recipes. Children will still eat the pudding regardless and gradually their taste buds will adapt and thus sugar cravings will decrease.

-    Better still, Replace sugar with honey, agave syrup or Xylitol. Xylitol is a naturally sweet substance derived from Birch trees. It is as sweet as sugar but does not cause damage to teeth and has a very low G.I. level so doesn’t send the blood sugar sky high.

-       Use fruit or dried fruits such as raisons or apricots for sweetening food.

-      Use homemade ‘ketch-up’, made without sugar. This is easy to make and cost effective.

-     Allow children to appreciate the sweet taste of fruit without adding ice-cream. Alternatively add yoghurt.

-      Give children foods that sustain their blood sugar levels at break times such as oat cakes or alternatively fruit. Even sweetened oatcakes are much lower in sugar than regular biscuits. There are also biscuits available which are sweetened by juice.

-       Cook from raw ingredients that your grandmother would recognise.

-       Avoid all processed foods in which sugar is often added so liberally.

Parents often talk about the 80:20 rule in which 80% of a child’s diet is good, leaving a twenty per cent margin for error, for sugar, read junk. Aiming for 90% would be more appropriate. In doing so a child’s health and longevity is encouraged from a young age. It is the best gift we can possibly hand future generations.