Fight infection with Dr Chatterjee’s 4 Pillar Plan: the second pillar – eating better

As part of this series of newsletter articles focusing on your health during this pandemic crisis we are today looking at Dr Chatterjee’s second chapter on eating from his book “The 4 Pillar plan”. It’s interesting to note that the most common way for infectious disease to enter the body is through the gut. By focusing on what you eat and put into your gut you can reduce your risk of infection which is of course of particular importance during this pandemic.

There is a lot of detail in Dr Chatterjee’s book which is just not possible to capture in this newsletter, so if you’d like to find out more about the science behind much of the doctor’s thinking please do get hold of a copy of Dr Chatterjee’s book to fill in the many of the gaps in this article.
Dr Chatterjee’s starts his chapter on eating by acknowledging how much has been written about diet and on how much of this only focuses on how to lose weight. Contrastingly, Dr Chatterjee’s focus is primarily health, the added benefit of improved health being weight loss. Diets also tend to come in and out of fashion. For example, there has been a huge amount of focus recently on vegetarian and vegan diets. In the past, the focus was on low carb, low fat, paleo and so on. We could also look at the variations of Blue-Zone diets, where the proportion of people in these different Blue-Zone areas around the world who live past 100 is much higher and where they live those extra years in good health.
Dr Chatterjee does not, however, condone any particular one of these Blue Zone diets. Rather he focuses on four basic principles that we can take from the diets in these Blue Zones:
  • None has a processed-food culture. By and large, they eat fresh, unprocessed, local produce:
  • They all sit down and eat meals together
  • They eat what is in season
  • They have treats, but only at very special festival times such as Christmas and Easter, not every day after school, or every Friday or Saturday.
To help you adopt these Blue Zone principles for eating Dr Chatterjee recommend five interventions:
  1. De-normalise Sugar
  2. A New Definition of ‘Five a Day’
  3. Introduce micro daily-fasts
  4. Drink more water
  5. Un-process your diet
De-Normalising Sugar
Most of us understand the importance of reducing our sugar intake and are aware that sugar increases your risk of contracting diabetes and becoming obese. But did you know that sugar consumption is also linked to many conditions and diseases like increased levels of harmful cholesterol, raised blood pressure, breast cancer and polycystic ovaries?
What is also interesting is Dr Chatterjee’s belief that sugar is an addictive substance. He point’s out how sugar spikes in the body trigger intense activation in a region of the brain called the Nucleus Accumbens. Remarkably this region of the brain is involved with reward, pleasure, addiction and saliency (how drawn you are to a stimulus that causes these effects)  and is the same region of the brain that lights up in people with addictions to drugs like cocaine, heroin and nicotine.
Dr Chatterjee also points out how sugar seems to alter our taste buds and how you become used to sugar and your body crave more and more of it. A common example of how taste can easily change is how people often find tea with sugar disgusting once they give up sugar in their tea.
So, how do you increase your chances of cutting down your sugar intake? Here’s four strategies Dr Chatterjee recommends:
1. Plan limited social engagements for the first two weeks. The current lockdown is an ideal opportunity to get you through this withdrawal phase and normalise your taste buds. Social occasions can be the hardest time to reduce sugar intake when they are indulging in their chocolate puddings.
2. Keep healthy snacks readily available at home, at work and even in the car. Carrots and hummus, celery, nut butter, fruit or olives are good substitutes.
3. Remove artificial sweeteners. You are retraining your taste buds and artificial sweeteners will sabotage that retraining process.
4. Include some protein in every meal. Protein from meat, fish, eggs, nuts or seed helps keep you feeling fuller for longer, helping you avoid sugar cravings
For those times when you are really craving a sweet treat, here are some of Dr Chatterjee’s alternative strategies:
  • Drink two large glasses of water
  • Do some deep breathing
  • Distract yourself with a complex task that focuses your attention elsewhere
  • Have a piece of fruit
  • Eat a handful of nuts
  • If you’re really struggling have a small piece of 90% dark chocolate
A New Definition of ‘Five a Day’
Dr Chatterjee suggests we eat five different types of vegetable every single day. This is different to the UK government’s advice to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables. This is because his own experience as a GP has shown him that most people will tend to focus on consuming fruit with a high sugar content to increase get their five a day, neglecting the consumption of important vegetables. Dr Chatterjee is not anti-fruit, it’s just that eating colourful vegetables is crucial for maintaining a healthy gut microbiome and improving your bodies’ defence against infection. As surprising as this may seem it also makes perfect sense because your gut is one of the key interfaces between the external world and your body. According to one study, there are actually more immune reactions in your gut over the course of one day than in the rest of your body over the course of your entire lifetime.
So to feed your gut microbiome Dr Chatterjee’s suggestion is to eat the rainbow. He points out that red foods, like tomatoes contain lycopene which research suggests reduces the risk of some cancers and heart disease. Orange foods such as carrots contain beta-carotene which as well as helping our immune system also promote healthy vision.  Green vegetables such as broccoli contain chlorophyll, which helps control hunger and the list of benefits goes on and on:
  • Lower inflammation
  • slower ageing
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Improved brain health
  • Improved blood sugar control
  • Improved cardiovascular health
Some of Dr Chatterjee’s tips to increase your colours:
  • Involve friends, family or work colleagues to help you stay motivated.
  • Get in the habit of snacking on veg – carrots with hummus, cucumber with tahini, celery with almond butter, avocados, olives etc
  • Leave colourful appealing vegetables on the kitchen worktop so that you see them regularly
  • Add two vegetable to every meal including breakfast
  • Serve and eat your vegetables first
  • Roast a whole baking tray of colourful vegetables drizzled with olive oil – us the leftovers for your next meal
Introduce Daily Micro-Fasts
Dr Chatterjee points out that humans evolved enduring regular feasts and famines. Interestingly the science has shown that when you fast your body enjoys a number of health benefits. After between 6 and 8 hours of fasting for example your liver will use up all its glycogen fuel stores triggering your body to begin to burn fat.
After twelve hours of fasting a process called autophagy begins to take place within your body. Autophagy is the process where the body begins to break down cellular junk and recycles to produce energy. When we never fast cellular junk or more accurately oxidiative stress is allowed to build up in the body where it can cause us a number of health problems. In the short term, it can contribute to fatigue and poor memory. Over the long term, it leads to chromic inflammation which can be a significant driver of many common diseases in the body including obesity, type 2 diabetes and stroke.
Dr Chatterjee’s tips to help you micro-fast:
  • Choose a twelve-hour eating period that suits your lifestyle. Note that your twelve-hour eating window is from the beginning of your first meal to the end of your last meal.
  • Your body likes rhythm, so try and keep to the same times every day even at the weekends. If occasionally you have to change your eating window this is absolutely fine.
  • Outside of your eating window stick to water, herbal, tea black tea or coffee. Be careful with caffeine so you don’t adversely affect your sleep.
  • Try to involve other members of your household, or even work colleagues. This will help to keep you motivated and increase your chances of success.
  • Don’t be disheartened if you miss a day, or even two, it really doesn’t matter. When you feel ready, try again and see how you get on.
  • When you are feeling comfortable with twelve hours, you may choose to experiment with shorter eating windows on different days.
Drink More Water
Dr Chatterjee’s suggestion is that you should try to drink around 8 glasses of water a day. He’s found that this has helped his patients suffering from a number of health conditions like long-lasting headaches or tiredness. An added benefit of drinking more water is that it will help you drink less sweetened drinks such as juices or soft drinks. Sugary drinks have been closely linked to obesity. One of the reasons for this is that fluids bypass normal satiety mechanisms in the body and allow you to consume a lot more energy and calories than is possible if you were eating solid food. Diet drinks also don’t appear to be particularly helpful. There has been found to be a strong correlation between zero-calorie soft-drinks and disorders such as diabetes.
Health benefits you may experience from drinking more water:
  • Fewer headaches
  • Increased energy levels
  • Better bowel function
  • Clearer skin
  • fewer tummy aches
  • Longer periods of concentration
  • Reduced cravings for sugar
Dr Chatterjee’s tips to help you increase your water intake:
  • Have two glasses of water when you wake up in the morning
  • If you’re hungry mid-morning or mid-afternoon, try having a glass of water instead of a snack
  • Once every hour get up from your desk and go to the water cooler
  • Drink a glass of water thirty minutes before each meal
  • Set an alarm three times per day to remind you to have a drink
  • Try adding lemon or orange slices for flavour
  • Buy a 600ml water bottle. We’re aiming for 1.2 litres per day so try to finish one by lunch and one by teatime
Un-process your diet
Highly processed foods cause a number of health problems for a number of reasons. Often highly processed foods contain a lot of sugar, poor quality carbohydrates and pro-inflammatory fats. They are also responsible for something called leaky-gut syndrome. This causes low-grade inflammation throughout your body as a result of your gut not working effectively. When you eat poor quality processed food your gut becomes more permeable allowing partially digested food through the gut wall of triggering your immune system. When your immune system is adversely triggered in this way your body can become vulnerable to ill-health.
Dr Chatterjee’s technique for avoiding low quality highly processed food is to simply try to avoid eating food with more than five ingredients.
Here’s Dr Chatterjee’s tips to unprocess your diet and eat more real food:
  • Start your day with a meal containing some protein as well as some healthy natural fat. Unhealthy fats being partially hydrogenated fats such as heated vegetable oils and trans-fats. This will help you stay full for longer, stabilize your blood sugar and help you avoid a mid morning crash.
  • Keep emergency health snacks with you at all times.
  • Write a meal planner – many people find it easier to plan their whole week so that they can better plan their weekly shop.
  • Remove all highly processed food from your house
  • Healthy food is available to buy in every supermarket. Find out where is live and only shop from those aisles.
  • Come up with five simple meals you can whip up in fifteen minutes or less. These will become your go-to staples.
  • Keep frozen veggies in the house at all times. Easy to steam, they can be quick healthy snack especially with olive oil on top.
  • Keep pre-chopped garlic and onions in the fridge at all times
  • Make sure you always have a healthy protein source such as fish or eggs in the house. Protein is the macronutrient that keeps you most full.
  • Set up you online supermarket shopping account to only buy healthy unprocessed foods
  • Learn to use herbs and spices freely. They are a great way to add new and exciting flavours to your meals.
  • Make your kitchen area desirable. Play music in it, keep it spotless and make it a place you like to spend time in.
  • Reserve space in your cupboards for all your staples( nuts, sardines, fruit, veg, hummus, nut butter etc.) so your good to go at any time.
Hopefully you’ve found this summary of Dr Chatterjee’s chapter on eating helpful. There is a lot more detail in his book but hopefully you’ve got some good ideas here on how to improve your diet, your health and better fight infection. The next chapter will be focusing on Dr Chatterjee’s ideas about exercising or as he puts in “moving”. In the meantime eat well, stay safe and be proud of your skin.
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