Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I'm Dreaming of a Green Christmas

As a family we have enjoyed reasonably good health over the years, but when I think back, we were most often sick at Christmas time. I spent more time in emergency rooms and medical clinics in December for myself and our children than I care to remember. I was working one Christmas day in ICU and my ears were so blocked, I could hardly hear a thing in my stethoscope. The doctor who checked my ears said there was no infection, yet my head felt like it would burst. I have had two bouts of influenza in December which left me ill and congested for weeks. For several years I was the first in line for my flu shot but I no longer get one even though I work in health care.

 Many illnesses can be treated symptomatically with drugs but it takes time and detective skills to figure out the root causes. If a patient comes to me with back or neck pain, I ask about their occupation, their chair, mattress and pillow before I treat their problem area. Sometimes a simple change is all that is needed to eliminate the pain. And I have linked most of our December illnesses to sugar overload. A classic study published in 1973 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition* demonstrated that 100g of various sugars and starches reduced activity of white blood cells up to 45%. This effect on the immune system lasted for five hours.

Growing up, I was taught to avoid addictive substances like alcohol, nicotine and other drugs but sugar, which is also highly addictive, was often used as a reward by kind adults, teachers and family. If there was one thing I would do differently in raising my children, it would be to avoid the use of sweets and simple carbohdrates as the highlight of birthdays and holidays like Christmas and Easter. As I get older, I recognize that too much sugar and processed food increases the likelihood that I will have fatigue, joint pain, headaches, fluid retention and higher blood pressure. Taking nutritional supplements does not replace our need for a healthy diet with plenty of vegetables and fruit.

I have eaten oatmeal for breakfast for decades but recently started eating a big salad instead. I fill a bowl with greens, add fresh fruit, a handful of nuts and seeds and splash it with good quality balsamic vinegar. It leaves me satisfied all morning. I often have a lunch salad but add legumes and cut up vegetables instead of fruit and nuts. Kale is one of the healthiest greens around, but I am not very fond of the taste and texture. Every week I juice a bundle of kale along with a whole lemon, oranges or apples, celery or cucumber, carrots and a knob of fresh ginger. I freeze the juice in daily portions and drink it diluted half and half with water. Someone accustomed to sweet sodas may think this is a wretched combination, but my tastebuds have become used to the taste.

The French translation= "cool very hot"
 There are many special food treats to enjoy at this time of year which are not sugary. We bought a box of fresh citrus fruit this month and stocked up on fresh nuts, special cheeses and other savoury items. I visited a local Indian grocery store last weekend to buy some spices for a delicious curry recipe that a lady brought to a church potluck meal. The chili powder came in two varieties;- "Very Hot" and "Extremely Hot". I had to laugh at the English translations on the imported spice packages. This shop had the most delicious vegetable samosas at the counter and they were a treat that beat any boxed chocolate at Walmart.

Here is to a healthy, green Christmas!

Sanchez A, et al. Role of sugars in human neutrophilic phagocytosis. Am J Clin Nutr 1973; 26: 1180-84

Ringsdorf WM jr, Cheraskin E and Ramsey RR jr. Sucrose, Neutrophilic Phagocytosis, and Resistance to Disease. Dent Surv 1976; 52 (12): 46-48


  1. What a great idea, Ruth! Your food looks yummy. I quit sugar last April, and have felt much more energetic and happy. Wouldn't undo that commitment for anything now. But I do need to add more greens... Thanks for the reminder!

  2. I confess that I have not been eating as healthy since D died.

    I never have taken the flu shot even though a lot of pressure was put on to get one when I worked at the extended care home. I never got the flu.

  3. I know you're trying to help, but you're depressing me.

    There was a stretch of time -- three years I think -- when I had to visit my doctor every day before Christmas or close to it. In my case it was mostly throat problems.

  4. Good for you! Staying away from all the holiday junk food remains on my list, most of the time. But I really don't eat any different for Christmas. Most important is not to get the Holiday Stress Syndrome. Enjoy the holiday and eat healthy.

  5. Anonymous8:19 pm GMT-5

    I like this post Ruth. I try not to let my little guy eat sugary foods- so far he hasn't noticed and doesn't mind. It's a struggle though when he sees his cousins eating junk!
    Maybe I should start eating salads for breakfast too?!

    But you are right, December is a struggle for all of us.

  6. Ruth, Ive read that about sugars also abd if i get ill, often trace back my recent sugary foods

  7. I think the sugars and highly processed carbs are the main reason people stay overweight and unhealthy. I gave up the sugary foods over 10 years ago. Have not had any candy, cake, pie, cookies since. Fully detoxed myself from it and know it is the key to keeping my weight off and feeling stronger and healthier. Wish I could say the same for bread and chips, but I try my best to limit them, and eat whole grain bread/cereals most of the time.

  8. I do find sugar addictive and have been trying to avoid it.-I've been more determined than ever to improve my nutritional intake.I enjoy reading your health and diet tips.


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