Chapter 5: Polysaccharides – Improving Your Well being
While we’re looking at nutrition and how it benefits your immune system, it’s impossible to overlook the importance of polysaccharides in your diet. You may never have heard this term used before. However, you can be certain that you will have included polysaccharides in your diet.
What Are Polysaccharides?
Polysaccharides are vital for proper nutrition since they contain complex carbohydrates that are essential energy sources for the body. All bodily functions rely on carbohydrates to produce energy, and although the body is capable of producing some energy itself, it cannot produce enough to make it selfsustainable.
Failing to consume enough carbohydrates means that energy needs to be supplemented by other sources. Insufficient carbohydrates in your diet puts you at risk of physical symptoms such as blood sugar drops, along with feelings of lightheadedness and weakness. Polysaccharides help you to overcome tiredness while supporting healthy blood sugar levels and blood pressure, supporting your immune function, promoting good cardiovascular health, and even boosting your libido!
The Most Common Polysaccharides
Commonly, polysaccharides are found in cereal grain husks, certain yeasts, algae, mushrooms and fungi, and plants. Some common polysaccharides include:
· Astragalus root – this polysaccharide is known to stimulate the immune system by increasing stem cell numbers in the lymphatic tissue and spinal cord and encouraging them to turn into immune cells, promoting T lymphocyte activation, stimulating macrophages and immunoglobulin production, stimulating the endogenous production of interferon and inhibiting virus replication.
· Laminaria Japonica – this polysaccharide binds strongly with toxic molecules like heavy metals, encouraging them to be eliminated from your body before their harmful effects can be experienced.
· Cordyceps Sinensis – rich in polysaccharides, adenosine and cordycepic acid, this mushroom stimulates the immune system.
· Goji berries – these contain polysaccharides that powerfully support the body’s defense systems by increasing lymphocyte and NK cell activity.
· Larchwood – this contains polysaccharides known as arabinogalactans that increase the body’s immune system response to disease by stimulating the body’s natural killer cells’ cytotoxicity and acting on inflammation.
How can I add Polysaccharides into my Diet?
It isn’t difficult to add polysaccharides into your daily diet.
Starch is a main example of polysaccharides – the primary carbohydrate source for tubers, plant seeds and vegetables which grow under the ground. Food sources of starch are often called starchy carbohydrates, and include foods such as rice, potatoes and corn as well as pasta, cereal and bread. These foods usually make up the most common type of carbohydrates in your everyday diet. Starches are broken down in the body into glucose, and this supplies the essential energy you need.
Cellulose is another polysaccharide that is found in many foods. It provides a protective structure or covering for vegetables, fruits and seeds. It is cellulose that gives foods their crunchy texture and it cannot be digested by the body. It functions as a dietary fiber source, adding bulk to stools and helping in the maintenance of proper digestive processes. Pear and apple skins contain cellulose, as do wholegrains such as wheat bran and plant leaves such as spinach.
Pectin is another polysaccharide compound which forms a gel-like substance when the body breaks it down. Foods containing pectin are sometimes called soluble fiber sources, and they benefit your body by prolonging the time taken to empty the stomach, helping you feel fuller for longer. Some soluble fiber sources include dried beans, oats, flax seed, barley, nuts, apples, oranges, psyllium husk and carrots.
While starchy foods often have a bad reputation as food sources that are high in fat, they actually contain less than 50 percent of the calories of fat in your diet. Starchy foods are also good sources of iron, calcium, vitamins, and fiber. To maximize their benefits, prepare them in healthy oils such as vegetable or olive oil, and avoid using high-fat methods of preparation such as frying, since this can offset their nutritional value.
Chapter 6: Plant Foods and Their Cancer Fighting Properties
A strong link has been found between the development of cancer and a weakened immune system, so it’s imperative to find ways of boosting immunity to aid the fight against this life-threatening disease. One way to achieve this is by including more plant foods in your diet.
Cancer and the Immune System
There are specific cancers that directly affect the immune system such as leukemia and lymphoma. However, all kinds of cancer impact immunity.
Cancer cells are created from the body’s own cells, and therefore, the immune system sometimes fails to recognize that it needs to attack them. While sometimes our immune systems know the cancer cells are foreign bodies that must be eradicated, more often than not, these cells go unnoticed. In some cases, cancer cells may even switch off the body’s immune response making sure immune cells cannot attack them.
Not only that, but cancer sufferers also often have a weak immune system. This happens when cancer itself, or the treatments given to combat the disease, affect the bone marrow. The blood cells are produced inside the bone marrow, so when it’s impacted by cancer, radiation or chemotherapy, it produces fewer blood cells than usual. If the blood cell count is low, your body cannot fight off infections properly.
Plant Foods and Their Role in Combating Cancer
There has been some evidence to suggest vegetarians are better able to resist cancer, and it’s believed that this happens because plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes and whole grains contain plenty of nutrients. Eating plenty of these types of foods reduces your risk of developing cancer.
This is because plants produce plant chemicals called phytochemicals that can protect the cells from being damaged. Not only that, but plant-based foods increase the amount of fiber we consume, and this also reduces the risk of certain cancers.
Finally, plant-based diets are, in general, lower in calories, and this helps us to maintain a healthy bodyweight which, again, reduces the risk of developing cancer.
This is all paired with the fact that meat may increase the risk of cancer. An extra 3.5 oz of red meat each day increases the risk of developing polyps in the colon by up to 2 percent, and just 1.25 oz of processed meat each day increases this risk by a massive 29 percent.
Which Plant Foods Should I Include in my Diet?
A plant-based diet emphasizes the consumption of minimally processed, wholefoods while limiting or avoiding animal products. The focus is on plants like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts and legumes, while refined foods such as white flour, processed oils and added sugars are excluded. Some of the foods you should add to your daily diet include:
· Fruits such as citrus fruits, berries, peaches, pears, bananas, and pineapple
· Vegetables like kale, spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, cauliflower, peppers, and asparagus
· Starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, potatoes, and butternut squash
· Whole grains like brown rice, farro, rolled oats, quinoa, pasta, barley, and brown rice
· Healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, coconut oil and unsweetened coconut oil
· Legumes like peas, lentils, chickpeas, black beans, and peanuts
· Nuts, seeds and nut butters like cashews, almonds, pumpkin seeds, macadamia nuts, tahini, and natural peanut butter
· Unsweetened plant-based milk like almond, cashew, or coconut milks · Herbs, spices and seasonings like rosemary, basil, curry, turmeric, salt, and black pepper
· Condiments like mustard, salsa, soy sauce, lemon juice, vinegar, and nutritional yeast
· Plant-based proteins like tempeh and tofu
· Beverages like tea, coffee, and water
Certain foods should also be avoided. These include:
· Fast food
· Added sweets and sugars
· Refined grains
· Convenience and packaged foods
· Processed vegan foods
· Artificial sweeteners
· Processed animal products