When the first wave of Covid hit the United States, it became clear that the majority of patients placed on ventilators suffered from a range of underlying conditions. Among these were metabolic disorders like obesity and diabetes, both of which have increased in the United States in recent years.
A question that intrigued people at the start of the pandemic was: why does diabetes make it harder to fight off a respiratory virus?
First, we know that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can worsen short-term blood sugar control and can potentially put people with diabetes into a very dangerous blood sugar state, studies show. It does this by binding to receptors on beta cells in the pancreas, which produce insulin.
As an allergist and immunologist, I often tell my patients that diabetes means you are in a chronic, low-grade inflammatory state, which challenges the body’s innate immune system and slows the spread of pathogens as they enter the body.
When it comes to our immune system, what we eat matters a lot. And no ingredient is more detrimental to your immune health than sugar, especially during Covid.
Sugar: the worst food ingredient for your immune system
When you have high blood sugar – which is caused by many factors, but the biggest one is getting too much of it in your diet – it sets off a vicious cycle of insulin resistance and obesity that increases inflammatory cytokines, damages blood vessels and activates the immune system to repair these areas.
This creates a major distraction for the immune system and opens the way for dangerous bacteria and viruses to slip through our body’s defenses.
If you’ve ever been diagnosed with prediabetes or diabetes, that might sound like bad news. But it’s not; Type 2 diabetes doesn’t have to be permanent.
Eliminating excess sugar from your diet can not only help end this cycle, but also reverse it completely. Reducing your sugar intake is one of the most effective ways to improve your immune system.
Sugar hides everywhere
You may be thinking: I’m not really a sweet person, so I don’t need to worry about that!
But even if you don’t eat donuts, candies, cakes, or cookies regularly, having too many simple carbs like bread, pasta, rice, cereal, or even certain fruits and juices can cause your heart to spike. your blood sugar level silently.
People often forget — or don’t realize — that sugar is found in ketchup, salad dressings, and lattes, as well as juices, yogurts, cereals, and protein bars.
I’m all about preventative care, especially when it comes to an insidious disease like diabetes, and I recommend that the first step in your nutritional journey – whatever your age – is to ask your doctor perform a fasting hemogoblin A1c test, even if your fasting blood sugar is normal.
Hemogoblin A1c tests measure average blood sugar over the past three months, so even if your blood sugar is normal on the day you see your doctor, the test can detect underlying problems.
How to protect your blood sugar health
Once you have an idea of where you are on the blood sugar spectrum, follow the steps below for better health:
1. Cut down on obvious sugars.
That means candies, sodas, cakes, and those seasonal flavored lattes we all love. These foods and drinks provide no nutritional value and contain huge amounts of sugar.
Instead, opt for dark chocolate, berries, or another low-sugar treat. I’m not saying you should cut out all sugary foods forever. The occasional dessert is fine! But in the beginning, it’s important to get to a place where your blood sugar is stable and healthy.
2. Read labels.
Now is the time to check the amount of added sugar in every item in your pantry – and I mean all, even things advertised as “low in sugar” or “healthy”.
The average American consumes about 17 teaspoons (71 grams) of added sugar per day, but the American Heart Association recommends no more than six teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar per day for women and nine coffee (36 grams) for men. .
Remember that we still get natural sugars from fruits, vegetables and grains, so we are definitely not deficient!
3. Eat more fiber.
If sugar is poison, fiber is the antidote. Not only does fiber keep your digestion steady, but it also helps slow the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream, which protects you from sugar spikes.
Lack of fiber is another reason why sodas, fruit juices and sugary coffee drinks are so detrimental to your health. They contain a ton of sugar and none of the blood-sugar-protecting fiber found in fresh, whole plant foods.
Some of my favorite high fiber foods are black beans and lentils, steel cut oats, avocados, buckwheat, pears, raspberries, barley, and flax seeds.
4. Choose nutrients over calories.
Instead of worrying about cutting calories, focus on adding more nutrient-dense foods to your diet with plenty of protein and healthy fats.
You don’t have to go low carb, just choose the “good” carbs. In fact, eating carbs in the form of vegetables, beans, whole fruits, nuts, and seeds — all foods rich in minerals and vitamins — is a great way to keep those hunger pangs at bay.
There are several apps to help you track your consumption. I ask all of my patients to log their diet for a few days to see how much sugar, fiber, and other added nutrients they are actually getting. It is often very revealing.
Dr. Heather Moday is a board-certified allergist, immunologist and functional medicine physician. She is also the author of “The Immunotype Breakthrough: Your Personalized Plan to Balance Your Immune System, Optimize Your Health, and Build Your Lifelong Resilience.” Follow her on Instagram @theimmunityMD and Facebook.