"Immunisation Week" – Day 3

healthy girlWorld Immunisation Week Day Three: Diet Guidelines for a Healthy Winter

Today has been fairly quiet news-wise on day three of World Immunisation Week, so I thought it was time we went over a bit more of the ‘what you can do besides vaccinating to keep yourself healthy over the winter season’ side of things. Consider this part one – an exploration of some of the essential vitamins and diet tips recommended to keep well year-round.

Diet

First of all, before anything else, we need to make one thing clear: you can take all the supplements in the world, but if you aren’t eating a proper diet, they aren’t going to do much at all. The best guidelines are as follows – and yes, they are deceptively simple.

To make things easy to follow for everybody, I’ve broken the following recommendations down into groups – those who eat animal products, and those who don’t. Whilst animal products can be good sources of certain vitamins, there is absolutely no reason why vegetarians and vegans need be deficient in any of the key nutrients needed for wellbeing. Hopefully this list will help people from all walks of life!

For everybody:

Include plentiful fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet – locally grown and/or organic as much as possible. Farmer’s markets are an excellent place to find local, organic (or at least spray-free) produce for a fraction of the price you’ll see it in supermarkets, and often of better quality. Fruit shops are also a great place to look, and there are a number of great organic or local delivery box services available online so you can have your shopping arrive on your doorstep at a time that suits. There really are no excuses on this one. The ‘five a day’ campaign is well-known, and having at least five servings (around a handful) a day is a great start, but I’d encourage you all to aim for a minimum of seven or eight for optimal health.

Drink plenty of clean, non-fluoridated water. In fluoridated areas this means either buying bottled water (not so environmentally sound, and with risk of BPA contamination from plastic bottles), or investing in a decent filtration system that removes fluoride – your average filter won’t take it out. This means reverse-osmosis, distillation [you then need to add in more minerals again], or a system such as the Seychelle filters that use a combination of systems to remove around 90% of it, the same as reverse-osmosis. Why remove fluoride? Because it has no known use in the human body, creates brittle bones and teeth, encourages the uptake of lead into bones, prevents the thyroid from taking in iodine and thus leads to hypothyroidism (already rife in this country), leads to calcification of the pineal gland, and has been linked in some studies to cancer and lower IQ in children. And the science shows there is no statistically-significant advantage to drinking fluoride to prevent tooth decay. If at all, it is perhaps a topical solution.

Watch your good fats, and include some good protein sources through the day (more on these below).

Include soaked nuts and seeds. These are high in minerals and protein, as well as some good fats, and are a healthy and nutritious snack to include on a daily basis. Soaking them in water for a few hours beforehand, or overnight, will reduce the phytate content. Phytates are ‘anti-nutrients’ that inhibit the absorption of many minerals, and cause digestive upsets in sensitive folk. They’re naturally present to prevent the seed from sprouting in less-than-ideal conditions, i.e. drought, and are broken down during soaking, which mimics rainfall and allows the seed to sprout and the nutrients to be absorbed.

Remember this key point, above all else: Eat Whole Foods. The less refined and processed, the better, whether you’re an omnivore or a vegan. Is the food or ingredient something that occurs in nature, and in its natural state, or close to, i.e. cooked, cold-pressed, milled, etc? Yes? Then it’s probably ok. Is it processed, refined, denatured, chemically synthesised, and far removed from its natural state? Yes? Then you should probably avoid it. It isn’t rocket science.

Fats and proteins

For omnivores:

For people who choose to eat meat and dairy, the best sources of fats and proteins are grass-fed animal products. Cheese, butter, and lard are all considered good fats by followers of the Weston A. Price Foundation, whose work is based roughly on that of their namesake, 1930s dentist and anthropologist Weston A. Price, as are cod liver oil, other fish oils, and so forth. As with everybody, refined vegetable oils and hydrogenated oils [formed when vegetable oils are heated] are out – these are highly inflammatory and toxic to the body – but virgin coconut oil (rich in medium-chain fatty acids and heart-healthy lauric acid), olive oil, and avocado oil are in. Protein is sourced from eggs, meats, dairy, as well as vegetarian sources (see below).

For Vegetarians and Vegans:

For vegetarians, some dairy and eggs are acceptable, and as such they can use some of the above recommendations, however vegans will want to focus solely on plant-based fats and proteins. The best to look at are, as above, coconut oil and olive oil, but there are also a number of good sources of omega 3, 6, and 9 fatty acids they can use. Chia seeds, purslane, and flax and hemp seeds are rich in Omega 3, as are hempseed oil and flaxseed oil, and there are also vegan ‘fish oils’ available in health shops that use an algae source of omega three. Fish consume the algae and source their omega 3s from there, so the idea is to bypass the fish entirely and go straight to source. Omega 3 fatty acids are very anti-inflammatory, and there is a wealth of research available on their benefits to brain function, joints, the heart, and other organs throughout the body. Most western diets are deficient in these, so it is important to ensure you’re getting enough. Other good oils to include are avocado oils (and plain avocados!), borage oil, and other seed oils.

Canola and cottonseed, on the other hand, are highly inflammatory and should be excluded from the diet.

Vegetarian and vegan sources of protein are readily available and easy to absorb and use. Great foods to include in your daily diet are legumes such as beans and lentils (very versatile and great-tasting!), soaked nuts and seeds, quinoa – one of the only vegetarian ‘complete’ proteins, containing all essential amino acids – as well as green leafy vegetables, and most other fruits and vegetables. Protein is comprised of amino acids, and is broken down into these component parts upon digestion. There are nine amino acids considered essential to the human body, which must be sourced from food. Few vegetarian proteins are ‘complete’, or contain all nine, however by consuming a variety of protein-rich foods on a daily basis, the body should easily get enough of them all to stay strong and healthy. Indeed, there are many vegan athletes and bodybuilders proving just how good these plant-based proteins are.

So, now we have a good understanding of the basics of a healthy diet, let’s look at some of the vitamins needed.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a key one for winter, as touched on briefly in yesterday’s blog. It is considered one of the best vitamins for lessening the severity of measles, and is necessary for immune function, for healthy skin and connective tissues, for cellular growth, for digestion, for eye health, and for numerous other processes throughout the body. In our diets, vitamin A is sourced either from animal sources for those who eat an omnivorous or lacto-vegetarian diet, or solely from plant sources for vegans.

Omnivores: For those who eat meat, dairy, and/or eggs, these are all good sources of Vitamin A. Cod liver oil, animal liver, eggs, butter, and other animal fats are all rich in retinol.

Vegetarians and vegans: Plant-sources include myriad fruits and vegetables. Generally speaking the colours yellow, orange, and red indicate the likelihood of high vitamin A levels, such as melons, apricots, carrots, pumpkin and squash, and sweet potatoes, as well as red spices such as chilli and paprika, and green leafy vegetables. These all contain members of the carotenoid family, which are the precursors to Vitamin A and are converted by the liver to the active form of Vitamin A. Various carotenoids are also linked to prevention of numerous cancers, heart disease, and other chronic health conditions, but the ability of the body to convert them to active Vitamin A varies depending on the food itself and other factors within the individual, so it is wise to include a variety of them daily. People with hypothyroidism can struggle to convert the carotenes to the active retinol, and may need to either supplement with retinol until function is restored, or include an animal source such as butter. Most other people will convert the carotenoids into their active form without too much difficulty.

Being a fat-soluble vitamin, it is also important to include a fat source when consuming vitamin A-rich foods to assist with absorption

Vitamin D3

Vitamin D3 is one of the most important vitamins in terms of immunity. This ‘wonder vitamin’ is one of the leading deficiencies in the western world, and low levels are linked to everything from cancer, osteoporosis, poor oral health, learning and behavioural disorders, mental health disorders, epilepsy, autism, multiple sclerosis, rickets (frank vitamin D deficiency), cancer, and more. Research has also demonstrated its importance in terms of immune health, with studies showing it to be far more effective than ‘flu vaccination at preventing the ‘flu.

Sourced from the sun, it is formed in the oils of the skin when exposed to the UV-B fraction of sunlight and then stored in the liver. Given our distance from the equator, very little Vitamin D3 is available for the winter months, as the angle of the Earth and sun mean the UV-B rays don’t reach us on the surface, and therefore many New Zealanders find themselves deficient over the winter. This is worsened when people actively avoid the sun during the mid-day hours over summer, as this is when the UV-B rays are at the appropriate angle and when we need to be exposing ourselves – bare-skinned, with no glass in the way, and certainly no sunblock or moisturisers – in order to build up our stores. Burning will destroy any of the vitamin that has been formed, as well as increase the risk of skin damage, so it is still vital to remain ‘sun-smart’. A few minutes a day is all that is needed in summer for a person with fair skin to get their daily allowance, increasing to up to an hour or more for people with very dark skin.

For omnivores, there is some vitamin D found in butter and certain animal fats, however it is important for most people to have their levels checked, and many people find supplementation with Vitamin D3 necessary in winter.

Vitamin D3, like Vitamin A, is fat-soluble, and thus including a fat whilst taking your supplement (if supplementing) will assist with absorption.

See this previous article on the IAS website for more information on Vitamin D3.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is perhaps the most well-known yet poorly-understood of all the vitamins. Found in fresh fruit and vegetables, it is water-soluble, and thus cannot be stored in the body and must be replenished daily in order to maintain health. While most animals can manufacture their own Vitamin C, due an obscure and ancient genetic defect we humans cannot, much to our detriment!

In terms of supplementation, the best sources of Vitamin C are either:
1. Sodium ascorbate powder
2. Lypospheric Vitamin C
3. Plant-sourced whole-food Vitamin C supplements from Vitamin C-rich ‘superfoods’ such as acerola, berries, and so on.

In terms of food, it is important to remember a couple of key points:

1. Vitamin C is destroyed by heat
2. Vitamin C is destroyed by light

So no matter how rich in the vitamin it may be, if the food is cooked, or the fruit has been sitting around in the fruit bowl for a week (especially after two weeks on a supermarket shelf or storeroom…), the vitamin C content will be very low. Fresh is best!

Sodium ascorbate is the easiest form of the vitamin for your body to absorb, as opposed to calcium ascorbate (‘esterified C’), which is difficult to break down, not well utilised, and has been linked to calcification of arterial walls – not good in anybody’s books!

The average person’s daily requirement is much higher than the frankly pathetic RDA of around 45mg. The RDA is only enough to prevent acute scurvy from occurring – many, many times this amount is required for your average person to maintain wellbeing. Thankfully, we have an easy way of knowing exactly what this amount is, and it will vary from person to person, from day to day: Bowel Tolerance. Essentially, when a person has had the most their body needs at any one time, their stools will begin to loosen, and ‘bowel tolerance’ has been reached. For an adult, this may be just 3,000mg (3 grams) whilst healthy, though that could go up to 30,000mg or more when unwell. For children it will be usually be far less than this, obviously – a good guide for young ones is to start with a little powder on the tip of a teaspoon mixed into water and given hourly. It is, of course, best to start small and work your dose up than to inadvertently induce diarrhoea to begin with by giving a too-high initial dose!

Thankfully, overdose on vitamin C isn’t likely, and the worst effect, according to world expects on the subject, is the risk of dehydration from loose bowels (where the body is removing the excess, thus, overdose is highly improbable). It can also theoretically be difficult for the kidneys to process in persons with compromised renal function when taken at high levels for prolonged periods of time, so working alongside a naturopath or Vitamin C-literate doctor or other health professional is a very good idea if using it for chronic illness.

Lypospheric vitamin C is a relative newcomer to the market, made infamous by farmer Allan Smith, whose use of intravenous Vitamin C, followed by Lypospheric Vitamin C, saved his life from severe pneumonia and influenza a few years ago – in short, doctors wanted to turn off his life support, his family decided to try vitamin C first rather than let him die, and after much legal wrangling with the medical community and hospital he made a complete recovery.

This form of the vitamin is essentially coated in a lipid (fat) to allow for absorption straight into the cells, bypassing the digestive system and thus the ‘bowel tolerance’ effect. It is much more expensive, but excellent to have on hand for use during the cold and ‘flu season for its excellent absorption and fast action.

For average daily use and prevention, an adult dose of around 2,000-4,000mg is usually enough for most people, dosing down to a little powder on the tip of a teaspoon for babies. For times of ill health or when needing a boost, try taking 1,000mg at hourly doses until bowel tolerance is reached (‘tip of a teaspoon’ for babies), and then cut back again for a good few hours. Frequency is more important than actual dose, and the dose will vary depending on the person, age, size, diet, illness, and a million other factors. During sickness, the body rapidly uses up its stores of Vitamin C, hence repleting frequently is essential for recovery.

For more information, check out this video by Dr Thomas Levy, international speaker on Vitamin C, and get hold of his books ‘Curing the Incurable’ and ‘Primal Panacaea’. Dr Suzanne Humphries has also written this fantastic piece on Vitamin C and in particular its use in the treatment of pertussis.

So there we have it – a quick and very simplistic rundown of some of the essentials needed to stay healthy this winter. Three key vitamins, and some basics of food. As always, you are what you eat – so eat well, and stay well.