Why You Should Avoid Sugar When You’re Sick

This is something I wondered recently when Sofie came down with a bad cold after a string of birthday parties and Halloween activities. I knew that a virus had caused the cold, but I wondered if an excess of sugary treats had contributed to it.

Motherly instinct told me to reduce the number of sweets Sofie ate while she was sick (a trying rule to implement during Halloween!), but my suggestion was met with such horror from my seven-year-old that I had to see if there was any foundation for my parental decision.

I learned some interesting things.

Like how most plants and animals (including cats and dogs) can convert sugar into vitamin C. Now that would be cool. Unfortunately, humans are not one of the lucky animals who can do this. In humans, glucose (sugar) and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) compete with each other, so a diet high in sugar weakens the immune system.

While consuming sugar doesn’t directly cause a cold, it does make you more susceptible to one. High sugar intake increases inflammation in the body. This means your germ-fighting white blood cells will be focused on the inflammation, leaving the door wide open for a cold virus to sneak in. Lo and behold, Sofie’s caught a cold after a week of birthday cake, candy and extra desserts.

Reading this, of course, makes me wary about ever giving sweets to Sofie (or myself). But we both enjoy a sweet tooth, so I know we’ll never give them up completely. Perhaps Dr. Jim Sears has the right idea by asking his kids, “Is this a good time to be suppressing your immune system?” whenever they ask for a sugary treat. That question at least brings your health to mind before habitually giving in to cravings.

Once you do have a cold, you should boost your vitamin C intake. But how much? Well, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommended daily intake of vitamin C for healthy people is: 90 mg for men, 75 mg for women, and between 15-75 mg for children depending on their age. However, some doctors believe that is way too little and recommend 2,000-4,000 mg daily for adults along with the “bowel intolerance test.” Here’s how the test works: Increase your vitamin C intake until you experience loose bowels (an indication of too much C), then back off the amount slightly until your bowels are normal. This is the amount your body needs.

At least that’s one theory, but I’m not sure I’m willing to go there.

I know our family meals have been a bit lacking in the fruit and veggie department lately. Plus, fall and winter, with their decrease of immunity-boosting vitamin D sunshine, may be the worst time to eat sugars… one reason colds are more predominant in those seasons.

I’m glad to be armed with this information. Even though I’m usually a believer of the “everything in moderation” rule, I would much rather limit my daughter’s sweets than deal with incessant colds for the next four months.

This post is featured on Natural Living Monday, Tuesday GreensWellness Wednesday, Party Wave Wednesday and Thank Your Body Thursday.



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14 Responses to Why You Should Avoid Sugar When You’re Sick

  1. Pingback: Weekend Reading – November 15, 2013 | At Home With Kate

  2. Anjanette says:

    Great post!! Featuring you tomorrow at RaisingtheBarrs.com for Wellness Wednesday! 🙂

  3. Pingback: Featured November Wellness Wednesday Posts - Intoxicated On Life

  4. Oh man, and you know what? I crave sugar when I’m sick like nobody’s business. I will try to sate that with whole fruit instead of sneaking a piece of chocolate next time.

  5. karen says:

    Thanks for the explanation how sugar can get you sick. So you should avoid sugar to prevent getting sick!

  6. heather says:

    another great reason for reducing or eliminating sugar from your diet!!

  7. Sarah says:

    I never thought of it this way but it makes sense, since sugar causes inflammation.

  8. I always limit my kids’ sweets when they are sick, and they usually go right along with skipping dessert and upping the citrus — I think we know somewhat instinctively which foods are nourishing and which ones need to be eaten sparingly. Great article.

    • pebble says:

      We do not know instinctively. The body craves sugar when we are sick, even though it is bad for us. For example, oranges have a TON of sugar in them. They are famous for their vitamin C, but compared to foods like broccoli or kale, they actually have very little. They have a lot of fiber, which is good for you, but I don’t consider them a health food by any means.

  9. Excellent article! I also avoid grains/flour…because they are converted to sugar. 🙂

  10. Pingback: Cold Remedies: 10 Tips How To Get Rid of Your Cold - The GOODista

  11. Reese Jones says:

    Great piece here. I never knew. When you say sugar, does it include starch and other carbs?

    • Donna DeForbes says:

      I would think that white flour carbs, which easily convert to sugar, should also be avoided.

  12. Steve o says:

    For a health blog you’re really just dipping your toes in the water, huh.

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