By Dr. Lisa Metzgar:
With the approaching bathing suit season, people are starting to think of ways to shed their winter “layer” before they lay out. Unfortunately, crash diets provide the allure of fast results with little effort. Needless to say these extreme measures can lead to a number of health issues including heart problems and decreased immune function. I read a story of a woman who lost 100 lbs. by drinking energy drinks and eating an occasional handful of dry cereal. First of all…YUCK! Secondly, she suffered a heart attack. No wonder! It always amazes me the lengths people will take to lose weight. I would cringe when my clients asked me about the HCG diet. Injecting hormones and eating 500 calories a day did a lot of damage to many people. Luckily, this diet isn’t as popular as it used to be, as it created some serious health issues with many people.
Decreasing calories dramatically can really weaken your immune system. Getting less than 1200 calories a day can starve your body of much-needed nutrients and your hormone levels may be negatively affected. One significant hormone, leptin, decreases in times of starvation. Leptin has been found to be a key hormone in immunity1 by regulating your basal metabolic rate (the energy it takes for your body to function). When leptin is reduced your body will conserve energy to protect the brain, heart, and liver, which means your metabolic rate reduces. A decrease in leptin also initiates an inflammatory response throughout the body. Inflammation plays a major role in many of our health issues like heart disease, asthma, allergies, IBS, arthritis, and atherosclerosis, just to name a few.
Your body requires a steady intake of proper nutrients to be function properly. Crash diets rarely provide essential nutrients, as the focus is on calorie management only. Instead of thinking about depriving yourself to lose weight, think instead of adding healthy nutrients to help balance the body so it naturally loses weight in a healthy way. It isn’t just about calorie intake, it is also about the quality of the calories you are eating. Choosing nutrient rich foods will lead to a healthier and leaner body.
Things you should include for a healthy balanced diet for a strong immune system and healthier body.
- Protein – a decrease in protein may lead to immune dysfunction2. Protein is broken down into amino acids that are used for repair and growth. Proper balance of amino acids stimulates the immune system and helps balance hormones. When you don’t get enough protein your body will start to break down its own muscle mass to get the needed amino acids. A decrease in muscle mass leads to a lower metabolism and makes it difficult to drop weight.
- Healthy fats – Healthy fats help reduce inflammation in the body…especially in the gut. Clinical studies have shown that maintaining a healthy balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is one way to support balance in your immune and inflammation response system. Research indicates the ratio of at least 5:1 omega-6 to omega-3 is health-promoting3. Our Western diets have closer to 15:1 ratios. Healthy sources include olive oil, coconut oil, chia and flax seeds, avocado, cold water fish oils especially salmon, walnuts, almonds.
- Fiber – Fiber, both soluble and insoluble, is needed for a healthy gut. It helps remove toxins from the gut and also is a prebiotic which helps feed your healthy gut flora. It naturally fills you up without adding too many calories. Whole grains and vegetables are excellent fiber choices.
- Fruits and veggies – Fruits and veggies provide essential vitamins and minerals for a balanced immune system. Green leafy vegetables especially will also alkalize the body. Most of us are too acidic which leads to an imbalance in our healthy gut flora and reducing our immune response. Fruits and veggies provide phytonutrients and antioxidants that help protect the cells in our body and strengthen the immune system.
- Whole grains – Beware of labeling when you are looking for whole grains. Many “whole wheat” products really don’t have a lot of the whole grain when you look at the Ingredient panel. Wheat has also been linked with decreased immune function for many individuals. Instead of wheat I recommend you eat whole oats, brown or black rice, and quinoa.
- Fermented dairy – Yogurt and kefir contain probiotics which help balance the gut flora. Choose full-fat versions4 and make sure you check the label…many of these products contain too much sugar. Get the plain versions and sweeten with your own fruit.
- Science-backed nutritional supplements – Sometimes you don’t always eat the right servings of veggies, fruit, grains and protein to get the nutrition you need. Dietary supplements can help with those gaps. Do your research and pick supplements that have been clinically tested. EpiCor is one such supplement that has been shown to support immune strength for better daily health.
All of these dietary hints and suggestions should be combined with a sensible and routine exercise regimen supervised by your health care practitioner. So, don’t crash and burn your immune system…a healthy body is a sexy body!