Keeping immune system health

Jun 25, 2013 by Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson

As yacht crew, we often grab food on the go because we can’t always sit down to a balanced meal. The problem with that is that what we eat directly impacts our health.

Every day our bodies are bombarded with disruption and disease-causing organisms. They are in the air we breathe, the water we drink and in the food we eat. When we feel good, our immune system handles it. But when we are stressed, tired and physically spent (sound like any yachties you know?), our immune system can’t keep up.

When that happens, we are slowly allowing our bodies to become a breeding ground for yeast. Our lower intestine contains bacteria, good and bad, that play a role in our immune systems and digestive health. When we’re run down and don’t eat right, the bad yeast can multiply, change forms and take over, causing a whole host of problems that basically make us not feel well.

Other things can multiply bad bacteria, including too many antibiotics, antacids, steroids and food additives. Physical factors play a part, too, such as age, too much sugar and refined carbohydrates in the diet, and lack of sleep.

Common symptoms of too much yeast include asthma, headaches, bloating gas, constipation, body odor and bad breath, and rashes including jock itch and athlete’s foot.

Too much yeast is a condition called candida. The most typical type is candida albican, which starts as a small round bud of yeast, but which can grow and end up looking like a branch that can ultimately penetrate your tissues. When it does, it releases 80 different chemical compounds into your body. The most dangerous is acetaldehyde, a byproduct of alcohol that is toxic to the brain.

I view food as medicine and believe you can literally eat your way to health. To restore health and eliminate the yeast overgrowth, avoid alcohol, antacids, antibiotics (except if carefully prescribed by a doctor), sugars and sugar-ladened desserts, breakfast cereals, yogurt and stress.

People with candidiasis are usually deficient in vitamins B and K. Drinking kefir supplies both along with good supply of Vitamin B12 and a good dose of tryptophan, for sleep.

Add essential fatty acids, antioxidants, fiber supplements, plenty of water, exercise, protein, vegetables and fresh fruit.

Some superfoods to add to your diet to control candida are homemade cultured vegetables (see directions below), kefir, quinoa and grains such as amaranth and millet, and leafy greens such as bok choy, beet greens, arugula, cabbage, spinach and chard.

Add more beans to your diet, especially lentils, navy beans. adzuki and garbanzo. Add eggs and animal protein soups with no starch. And stock up on nuts and seeds. Drink lots of water with lemon.

Candidiasis will not go away in a few days. It took a long time to build up in your system and will take some time to leave. Be patient, and understand that you may feel worse before you start to feel better.

To make cultured vegetables, shred some vegetables (cabbage is easy to begin with) and submerge in a water brine in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Leave a little room at the top and let sit at room temperature for several days. It will develop friendly bacteria that triggers cleansing by producing more gas in your system and intestinal tract. This is making a more acidic environment so the good bacteria can reproduce. Basically you are pickling your vegetables.

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 20 years. Comments on this column are welcome at


About Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years.

View all posts by Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson →