Hepatitis C and the Health Benefits of Eating Oatmeal
We’ve all heard it before – breakfast is the most important meal of the day. While this sounds like a straightforward concept, most of us are unaware of what kind of breakfast is in our best interest. Sadly, the majority of American breakfast foods are not ideal for a person working to preserve liver health. Especially important for those living with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV), there are many benefits to starting the day with a nutritious breakfast.
Eating a healthy breakfast takes on additional importance throughout the cold winter months. Requiring a strong body to deflect troublesome pathogens, an array of hearty colds and viruses make their presence during this frigid time of year. Thankfully, there are breakfast options providing us with vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber that can help the body successfully fight off winter’s worst illnesses.
Complicating breakfast selections are the appetite changes typically accompanying HCV infection or its treatment. The symptoms of nausea and vomiting can easily deter a person from eating well in the morning. Additionally, some foods once enjoyed may no longer taste the same. People with HCV often report that certain protein-rich foods, especially red meat, taste bitter. These phenomena may be due to HCV medications causing a bad taste in the mouth or it could be a consequence of liver disease harming certain chemical pathways in the body.
When cold outside, the body naturally craves warming foods to maintain its ideal, internal temperature for maintaining immunity. People who are in tune with this desire typically veer away from ice cream, cold cereal, and anything else straight out of the refrigerator or freezer in the winter. According to dietician Dr. Sharon Madigan, “As we approach the time of year when we all seem to succumb to the cold, one way of boosting our immune system is by eating a variety of foods which give you different nutrients that may help the body fight infection.”
In today’s fast paced lifestyle there is a trend toward eating little or no breakfast. However, those on anti-viral therapy with ribavirin have an additional reason to consume breakfast. This oral medication is mostly taken by mouth twice daily. Clinical studies have indicated an increase in its effectiveness when taken with a substantial meal. Since most physicians advise taking ribavirin in the morning and evening, it is important for those on ribavirin therapy to take this medicine with an ample breakfast.
While eating a hot breakfast is the best way to start a wintry day, not all hot foods are created equally. Unfortunately, many morning hot foods do not contribute to your health. Some of the top offenders include:
- Breakfast meat – Bacon and sausage are usually highly preserved, loaded with salt, and high in saturated fats. Preservatives require extra effort for a challenged liver to break down, lots of salt can stress the kidneys and cause water retention (bad for ascites), and saturated fat contributes to fatty liver disease and can worsen portal hypertension. If opting for bacon or sausage, consider chemical-free, low-fat and low-sodium varieties.
- Eggs – Although providing a good dose of protein, eating eggs daily can cause a steep hike in cholesterol levels. Additionally, the cheese used in omelets adds saturated fat, which contributes to clogged blood vessels, fatty liver disease, and portal hypertension. A healthier option is consuming egg whites or egg substitutes.
- Pancakes or waffles – Although these foods can provide a decent breakfast, many people load up on their not-so-good toppings. Powdered sugar, butter, margarine and gobs of syrup add sugar and fat to pancakes or waffles. Additionally, restaurants may cook these tasty dishes in shortening – a top contributor to atherosclerosis. However, multi-grain and low-fat options are healthful ways to enjoy pancakes and waffles. Just limit your toppings to a small amount of low-calorie syrup and you can enjoy a decent hot breakfast.
- Biscuits and gravy – This Southern favorite of two white biscuit halves smothered in gravy speckled with sausage bits is a nutritionist’s nightmare. High in saturated fat and salt, this dish is sure to worsen hypertension, heart, liver and kidney disease.
Hot Breakfast Savior
Despite the discouraging news of the most popular hot breakfasts, a bowl of hot cereal offers hope. According to Dr. Madigan, oatmeal is the ideal winter breakfast food. Oatmeal contains whole grains, which are good sources of protein, fiber, vitamin E and B, zinc, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. Like fruit and vegetables, oatmeal provides a package of nutrients that can help keep the immune system strong to fight bacteria and viruses – including HCV.
Bernadette Speer, Marketing Manager of White’s, maker of Speedicook Porridge Oats said, “eating a large breakfast in the winter has been shown to increase the blood level’s gamma interferon by 450 percent.” As the body’s natural anti-viral compound, gamma interferon is crucial to maintaining health when exposed to viruses.
Often referred to as “breakfast that sticks to your ribs,” eating oatmeal in the morning is healthful when it is not laden with sugar. However, most of the flavored packages of instant hot cereal have high portions of sugar. Nutritionists agree that plain oatmeal is best. According to the American Cancer Society, some of the reasons oatmeal’s soluble and insoluble fibers are beneficial are:
- By attacking certain bile acids, insoluble fiber reduces the toxins that need to be filtered by the liver.
- Soluble fiber may reduce LDL cholesterol (the bad one) without lowering HDL cholesterol (the good one). By improving the cholesterol ratio, soluble fiber can reduce atherosclerosis, fatty liver disease, and portal hypertension.
- By slowing down the digestion of starch, soluble fiber helps keep a stable blood sugar level. This feature benefits anyone at risk for insulin dependence or diabetes – two problems commonly associated with HCV infection.
- The phytochemicals in oats are believed to have cancer-fighting properties. In addition, they are a good source of many nutrients including protein, vitamin E, zinc, selenium, copper, iron, manganese, and magnesium.
While oatmeal may be too bland for your taste, below are five ways to make it delicious:
- To add richness while adding calcium and protein, make the oatmeal with milk instead of water.
- Sweeten oatmeal with honey or Stevia.
- Add flavored protein powder after it’s been cooked.
- Mix in fresh or frozen fruit like bananas, blueberries or peaches to give your oatmeal great flavor while adding the nutrients found in fruit.
- Top your oatmeal with some nuts to add flavor and boost protein levels.
A specific dietary concern for those with HCV is iron consumption. Since those with chronic liver disease must restrict their dietary iron intake, be certain to skip oatmeal fortified with iron. Because most oatmeal contains a small amount of iron, it is worth the effort to search for oatmeal with a low percentage of this mineral.
While consuming oatmeal offers many benefits including aiding toxin elimination, reducing cholesterol, improving blood sugar levels, and preventing cancer, it does not pose the health threats of more popular American hot breakfasts. Starting a winter morning with your liver’s health in mind is as easy as consuming a bowl of oatmeal. Besides warming us from the inside, oatmeal provides an array of nutrients to help a person with HCV overcome their daily challenges.
http://health.learninginfo.org, Six Health Benefits of Eating Oatmeal, Ryan Cote, 2007.
http://quakeroatmeal.com, Oats and Cholesterol Lowering – Summary of Studies, The Quaker Oats Company, 2007.
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www.allabouthepatitisc.com, Overcoming Obstacles to Eating, Schering Corporation, 2007.
www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk, A bowl of porridge a day keeps doctor away, Claire Regan, Independent News and Media, November 2007.
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www.medicinenet.com, Ribavirin – Oral Capsules, MedicineNet Inc., 2007.