Sugar is sugar, right? Not at all. There’s a world of different sugars, and each type can send very different messaging to your immunity.
As an example, simple sugars that are easily broken down by the body (such as sucrose, high-fructose syrup, or glucose) can kind of paralyze immune cells for hours if you get too much of them. Simple starches like maltodextrin can do the same thing.
On the other hand, some sugars have a more complicated molecular shape that the body can’t fully digest, like the alternative sweeteners inulin, mannitol, isomalt (aka isomaltitol), or isomaltooligosaccharides (aka IMOs). Complex sugars like these give more of their calories and energy to your beneficial intestinal flora — which is actually a valuable member of your body’s Team Immunity.
Slow Sugars, Not Fast
But doesn’t everyone like more energy? Why isn’t it a good idea to get lots fast? A sugar rush turns out to be a kind of red alert situation inside you. Your body has to dispose of the sugar much more rapidly than your brain and muscles can use it — and this means turning it into something more stable.
You’ve probably heard a lot about this storage form of energy — body fat. This mission to get sugar out of your bloodstream is urgent enough that your body has to prioritize it over other important functions like immunity, mental concentration, and healing. In a nutshell, fast sugars turn immunity way down, while slow sugars help develop a crucial immune relationship with the helpful microbes residing in your gut.
Once you identify the simple sugars in the foods you eat, it’s easier to make your diet work towards your immune advantage. Here are a few pointers:
- Incorporating high-fiber foods or supplements with meals can help slow down your absorption of sugars and help keep blood sugar on a more even keel. Some examples include beans, whole grains and cereals, fleshy fruits like apples, and nuts and seeds.
- Keep an eye on the “Added Sugars” line of the Nutrition Facts labeling on packaged foods you eat. You may be surprised how quickly the grams add up in your diet, since each 5 grams is about a teaspoonful of sugar! The higher the number, the more you may be suppressing your own immunity.
- Stick to whole, unprocessed veggies and fruits, and enjoy generous portions of them with at least two of your daily meals and snacks. Many have a unique sweetness of their own, and many contain plant nutrients that benefit your gut microbes as well as your immune cells.
- Be sure and get enough magnesium, chromium, B vitamins, and zinc. Along with fiber, these nutrients help optimize the way your body uses sugars and starches from your diet.
For a Deeper Dive
Our blood sugar levels normally go up and down throughout the day, but it’s important that they not stay too elevated for too long. Here’s a science article that talks about how these peak blood sugar times can mess with immunity and make people more susceptible to infection.