The Nutritionist:

The fascinating science behind nutrition

Healthy Living > Physical health > The Nutritionist: Science behind nutrition

Blog Article | By Simplyhealth and Monica Durigon 23 June 2020

Monica Durigon has a passion for healthy living. Having grown up in Italy, known for its pure, simple meals enjoyed in the company of family and friends, Monica is enthusiastic about the science behind nutrition and how it benefits our body and mind in specific ways. She is a qualified nutritionist, member of BANT, CNHC and the British Society of Lifestyle Medicine.


In this article, Monica talks in detail about how nutrition provides crucial protection for our bodies when it comes to supporting our immunity. Intrigued? Read on.


What you can get from this article:

  • The science of eating well
  • Monica's immune system 101
  • How to eat for immunity
  • Why you need to balance your blood sugar
  • Top tips for balancing blood sugar


You can also learn more about nutrition through Monica's website.

The science of eating well


Our bodies are amazing. Every part is detailed. Intricate. Brilliant. For instance, take the immune system. This intelligent network is strong, complex and beautifully sophisticated. The only thing more complex is the nervous system. As a nutritional therapist and Simplyhealth partner Monica Durigon describes:


"Our body has a huge arsenal of weapons and an immense army at its service ready to protect us from the innumerable number of attacks it sustains each day."


Just like a real army, our body's army can only do its job - protecting us - when we look after it.  We need to nourish it properly. It needs enough rest. In short, we need to take care of our bodies.


We asked Monica to share her top nutrition tips with us. 

Monica’s immunity 101


Each day, our bodies are at risk from an almost infinite array of invaders. Many things can cause us damage:

  • Viruses
  • Bacteria
  • Parasites
  • Defected and mutated cells
  • Toxic substances


And more. That's what the immune system is for. It helps to protect the body from damage. Anything this clever system sees as an enemy will be disposed of.


To carry on the army analogy, the immune system is organised into lines of defence. Monica says that these lines start with "the barriers which separate the inside of our body from the external environment". Our skin is the most obvious barrier. There are also internal barriers, such as the lining of body cavities (the gastrointestinal tract, the respiratory airways, the vagina).


Nothing can penetrate these lines when they are healthy and strong.


But the good news is that, even if there's a breach, we have internal defences too. Our bodies come with what Monica refers to as "an army of soldiers for an immediate response to any attacks”, our innate immunity: a non-specific type of protection. This immunity is provided by immune cells. Like soldiers, these cells patrol our bodies all the time. They identify anything that looks out of place. Then they respond immediately to remove the invader.


If this isn't enough, we also have specific types of protection available.


Monica outlines "Our bodies can also call upon a wiser and more knowledgeable form of response which is very specific to the intruder. [It] is the result of years of exposure to various antigens. This is the adaptive branch of the immune response." In other words, once you've been exposed to a particular virus or bacteria, you'll have a certain degree of immunity to it.


Monica continues the army analogy. "Each branch of the army has its own soldiers: the white blood cells. Macrophages, neutrophils and natural killer cells are the main players in the innate immunity. B-cells (plasma and memory) and T-cells (T-helpers, T-cytotoxic, T-suppressors, T- memory) are the main players in the adaptive branch."


Like soldiers, immune cells have ammunition. Different cells have different weapons. Here are some examples:

  • Inflammatory secretions
  • Enzymes
  • Proteins
  • Antibodies


The cells use the weapons they need based on the type of threat they face. When our bodies face a threat, these cells mount an immune response. Such a response uses a lot of energy. For your body to be able to fight, it needs to be in top condition. Your body needs to be taken care of.


We can make a big impact on how successful our immune systems will be. Two key things we can do are to eat well and live a healthy lifestyle. These simple steps will strengthen our immunity. 

Eat for immunity


Monica offers some valuable advice:


"With each food choice we make, we have the ability to positively influence our biology."


It's true that not one of us is free from the risk of being infected by a virus. But there are basic, potent ways to limit our risk. And we can boost our body's ability to fight back if we do get infected.


Here's what Monica says are the key focus areas:

  • Balance blood sugar
  • Nourish our immune systems
  • Stay hydrated.
Plate with healthy food on it

Supporting your immunity

A nutritious, balanced plate should contain:

  • Proteins
  • Starchy carbs
  • Non-starchy carbs
  • Phytonutrients
  • Healthy fats


Plus, get plenty of:

  • Vitamin D
  • Water
  • Herbs and spices

Blood sugar balance: why we need to ditch the C.R.A.P!


"Now more than ever, it is time to ditch CRAP foods," says Monica.


CRAP stands for:

  • Carbonated drinks
  • Refined carbohydrates
  • Added sugars
  • Processed foods.  


Foods in these categories have high calories but almost no nutritional value.


Nutrition experts call these "empty calories". They offer little nutritional value to the body. What's more, they come with a high sugar load.


According to Monica, "A diet high in refined carbs and processed foods causes an imbalance in blood sugar levels with elevated secretions of insulin which in the long term lead to:

  • Chronic low-grade inflammation
  • Fat deposition (weight gain)
  • Insulin resistance
  • Diabetes Type 2 and decreased immunity.


Chronic low-grade systemic inflammation does more than just deplete the immune system resources. It is also one of the leading factors involved in the development of chronic diseases."


What we found interesting when we spoke to Monica was the effect of too much sugar in our blood. Did you know that having high blood sugar levels can affect your immunity? High blood sugar makes certain types of white blood cells less effective. It decreases vitamin C uptake in the white blood cells. It also could lead to a decreased production and dysregulation of neutrophils (a type of white blood cell).

A pink glazed doughnut with sprinkles

The villains are refined carbohydrates

  • Man made carbohydrates
  • Don't exist in nature
  • Result of industrial processes
  • Greatly affect your blood sugar balance
  • Empty calories
  • Anti-nutrients
  • Pro-inflammatory

Monica's top tips for balancing blood sugar


  • Avoid sugary foods
    Become a label detective. Read the labels of everything you eat. If anything has more than 10g of sugar per 100g, leave it!  There are some ’usual suspects‘: muffins, cakes, sweets, and mass-produced baked products are all very high in sugar. That much is obvious. But even food options that claim to be ’healthy choices’ can be just as bad. Snack bars and breakfast cereals can be crammed with obscene amounts of hidden sugars. Make sure you read the label.
  • Eat real food
    Monica says: "Choose real, natural, whole foods, as close as possible to nature." She recommends that we avoid refined carbohydrates. Grains that have been over-refined fall into this category. Grains are refined by having their outer layers stripped away. Sadly, that's the layer that contains all the nutrients. All that's left after that is a small organic sugar factory. White foods are common culprits: think white bread, white pasta and white rice. You can switch these for their wholemeal counterparts. Swap for wholemeal bread, pasta and brown rice.
  • Cut down carbs
    Monica advises: "Choose starchy carbohydrates foods in moderation - potatoes, roots vegetables and wholegrains". Her advice is to choose either one type of starchy vegetable OR one type of whole grain per meal. Whole grains could include wheat, rice, barley, oats, buckwheat, quinoa or others. A good tip is to keep the portion small by covering no more than a quarter of your plate. So if your meal includes some brown rice, don't starch it up with a slice of bread or some potato, too.
  • Pick your proteins
    Monica says, "Look at your plate and ask yourself: where are my proteins?" Proteins are key for balancing blood sugar. Every meal should include at least one form of protein. Good choices for a main meal could be meat, eggs, or fish. Pulses are an excellent protein choice, too. Examples could include beans, peas, lentils, or chickpeas.
  • Eat healthy fat!
    This may surprise some readers, but Monica says, "Include healthy fats in your meals". Our bodies need fat to stay healthy. The right kind of fat will make you feel satisfied and you'll be able to resist unhealthy cravings. Healthy fats, omegas 3, 6 and 9 and the fats from coconut (these are called MCT) are essential for many aspects of our health – good sources are avocados, oily fish, olives, olive oil, seeds, nuts.
  • Don't graze
    "Eat regularly, but not often. No grazing throughout the day!" says Monica. Your body needs rest periods between meals to help balance your blood sugar. Snacking interferes with the process. So aim to limit what you eat to just three main meals per day.

Enjoy the science behind eating for your immune system? We've got another article from Monica, outlining the foods that provide us with the vitamins and nutrients an immune system-boosting diet needs. You can also discover the best ways to enhance your immune system through lifestyle choices

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