To build a robust immune system we need good nourishment. Disease is caused by certain deficiencies in the body and this could be due to an incorrect diet. The foods we eat influence our immune strength and susceptibility to diseases. The right kind of food can help boost our immunity!
Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have followed various practices and methods to stay safe and protected. Some of these measures include social distancing, the use of masks, quarantine, sanitizing and so on. Though all of these practices do help, immunity alone plays an important role in protecting us from various diseases, including Covid-19.
Immunity can be best described as our body’s defense system or our body’s mechanism to protect itself from various diseases and pathogens. The immune system consists of various numbers of cells that protects our body against germs. When the white blood cells in UR body recognize a certain pathogen, they produce antibodies which fight against diseases. There are two types of immune systems – innate immunity and acquired immunity.
Immunity cannot be acquired in a day. How UR body is immunized, how effective the protective system in UR body is depends on from the time of UR birth. If you were born with a natural delivery – you have a different protective mechanism or UR immunity is higher than those born with C-section. And if you were a breastfed baby, you will have more immunity than those who were not breastfed.
If you’ve been taking various antibiotics throughout your life – your immunity decreases. If you’ve been eating healthy foods and have been including a lot of probiotics in your diet, UR immunity will be good. Let’s focus on the diet you need to adopt to improve and build UR immunity to prevent Covid-19 (even if you have already got the infection – to prevent re-infection or to protect yourself from various diseases such as cancer, diabetes and even heart diseases. Various diseases can be prevented by following a really good diet.
Let’s start by understanding what macronutrients are. By macro it means you will be using this in larger amounts. What exactly is present in larger amounts in your plate? It will probably be the rice or wheat (carbohydrates), dals or eggs (protein), and a little bit of fat. With regard to carbohydrates, many people opt for fad diets with the need to go on a low carb diet or a zero carbohydrate diet to lose weight. This is not at all recommended! We need carbohydrates in the right amount for various reasons.
There are two types of carbohydrates – simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are white in color. This includes white rice, white bread, maida or anything that is white. These foods are digested by the body faster and converted into glucose. On the other hand, complex carbohydrates are brown in color. This includes any whole grains like millets, brown rice, and quinoa – foods that contain a high amount of fibre and which is very good for the body. Fibre is also a form of carbohydrates that contains zero calories and is really helpful in building UR immunity.
Fibre too has different kinds – soluble fibre, insoluble fibre and resistant starch. Complex carbohydrates (whole grains) contain a large amount of fibre which slows UR digestion and releases glucose slowly into UR blood. This way, your blood sugar levels don’t rise immediately and as and when the digestion takes place, it releases glucose slowly into UR body and releases energy slowly as well, resulting in normal blood sugar levels.
Fibre is needed for the body. There are also many advantages of consuming it. When fibre enters into your large intestine, it forms short chain fatty acids which help in building gut immunity. Much is said nowadays about improving gut health to improve UR immunity. If you include a large amount of fibre in your diet – 70% of this fibre will help to improve your gut immunity. It acts as a prebiotic to form probiotic bacteria.
Immunity cannot be acquired in a day. How UR body is immunized, how effective the protective system in UR body is depends on from the time of UR birth. If U were a breastfed baby, U will have more immunity than those who were not breastfed. UR immunity will also be higher if U were born with a natural delivery.
Basically, it helps to produce the good bacteria in UR gut which help eliminate various symptoms that you may experience. These include bloating, gas, indigestion and constipation. This is why good carbohydrates are important. It’s also an immediate source of energy. But remember, it needs to be taken in the right amounts.
Proteins are a macronutrient which is really important to improve immunity. It helps in the formation of new cells and helps in tissue formation. It helps in protein synthesis too. Protein comes into play for any tissue that needs formation or any tissue that is repaired. They are responsible for the formation of antibodies as well. Red blood cells (RBCs) are also dependent on protein for their formation. Protein even helps in the production of new blood cells. Hemoglobin has two parts – heme and globin. ‘Heme’ is the iron part and ‘globin’ which surrounds the iron, is the protein part. Here are some good sources of protein:
Whole eggs (contains complete amount of amino acids) which is a complete source of protein.
Lean meats (chicken breast and fish). Avoid red meats and chicken thighs as they are not lean meat sources.
For vegetarians and vegans:
Pulses (chole, rajma)
Fats are essential for the body because we have various immune boosting vitamins like (A, D, E, K) that are fat soluble and not water soluble. If you don’t eat essential fatty acids these vitamins will not be absorbed and metabolized in UR body. There are good fats and bad fats – saturated and unsaturated fatty acids.
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Some sources of fats which are rich in omega 3 fatty acids help in reducing inflammation in the body. When we are attacked by pathogens, the body fights it and the process of inflammation starts. This can be curbed by consuming omega 3 fatty acids. Some good sources of omega 3 fatty acids include fish, walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds.
Ghee is a very good source of healthy fat and helps to boost immunity. It contains butyric acid which is a short chain fatty acid that helps in immunity building. Though it is a healthy food, not overdoing it is essential. Have only one teaspoon per meal a day and not more than that. Your age, weight and ethnicity matter too. It’s vital to keep quantities in check and to know how your body metabolizes ghee as well. Keep all of these factors in mind if you decide to include ghee in UR daily diet.
Now that we better understand the larger part of food (macronutrients) let’s look at what is meant by micronutrients which are really important to build immunity. There are various kinds of micronutrients. Vitamins and minerals form the sources of micronutrients. As you know there are fat soluble and water soluble vitamins.
The vitamin sources that help in building immunity include the following:
Vitamin A: This is an immune-boosting vitamin. It helps in protecting various systems in the body and improves eye health too. It is called the orange, yellow vitamin as all the carotenoids and xanthophylls are orange and yellow in color. It is also green in color. The sources of this vitamin include:
Green leafy vegetables
Vitamin C: This is an antioxidant vitamin. It helps in preventing cancers by curbing toxin nascent oxygen in the body. Opt for the locally and seasonally available foods which are orange or yellow in color as these contain vitamin C. Some of these foods include:
Guavas (white or red)
Bell peppers (all colors)
Vitamin D: Know as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, this vitamin has a very less number of sources. The yolk of the egg is a good source of vitamin D. Some mushrooms too are rich sources. You can also get this vitamin from fortified milk and fortified oils. To acquire this vitamin, you can either eat these foods or expose yourself to the sun for at least 15 to 30 minutes daily. The best time to soak up the sun is between 7.am to 10.am.
The metabolism of vitamin D slows down with ageing. So if you are 60 or 70 years and above it’s easier for you to take supplements. If you are under 50, you can get sunlight for at least 15 to 20 minutes a day for the required amount of vitamin D.
Quite a number of studies have mentioned about the relation between the deficiency of vitamin D and Covid-19. The data states that if UR body lacks vitamin D there are more chances of getting infected with this disease. Get your blood work done to check if you are deficient in this vital vitamin.
There are also some important minerals that help to boost immunity. These include zinc, iron and selenium.
Zinc is an immune boosting mineral which can be replenished by various sources. It has to be replenished from time to time (on a daily basis) because it cannot be stored in the body. Some of the good sources of zinc are as follows:
Nuts and seeds (sunflower and melon seeds)
Iron is necessary to avoid anemia which mostly affects women after they acquire puberty. The RBC stores in the body need to be replenished by eating iron-rich foods. This is a red-brown mineral because most of the sources of iron are red and brown in color – ragi, jaggery, liver (organ meat) and dates are foods rich in this mineral.
An easy way to include iron in UR diet is to have ragi java mixed in hot milk in the mornings or before bedtime. Mix in about one or two spoons of this flour in the milk and drink it. You can also eat dates (2-3) a day if you are non-diabetic. Opting for jaggery instead of sugar is also a good way to include iron in UR diet daily.
Don’t forget green leafy vegetables. Make smoothies with these vegetables to keep things interesting. Here’s an easy iron-rich smoothie recipe you can try.
Take a bunch of spinach, two dates and a little bit of chia seeds
Add half a teaspoon of wheatgrass powder (avoid this if you are on blood thinning medicines)
Add half a banana and a little bit of coconut milk
2 dates (for added sweetness and iron content)
Mix all of this together in a blender and drink up!
Selenium is an important mineral too. The sources include lean meats, Brazil nuts, seafood, eggs and other nuts and seeds.
Spices play an important role in boosting immunity as well. Most Indian cooking includes a range of healthy spices which have healing qualities. Some of these include:
Turmeric: Add it to your daily foods – in curries, sambhar, or as haldi doodh or ‘golden milk’.
Pepper: When turmeric and pepper are combined, it improves absorption in the body.
Ajwain: This spice helps to improve digestion and reduces bloating, gas. It also helps with better absorption of food.
Cinnamon: A pinch of this spice powder taken daily in warm water in the morning helps to reduce blood glucose levels and improves heart health as well.
Another immune-boosting food is probiotics. It helps to improve gut health and immunity. Both, prebiotics and probiotics help to improve immunity. Prebiotics supplements probiotics and helps in the formation of good bacteria. In India, there is very less sources of probiotics but the good sources you can find here is buttermilk and curd. In our country we also have something known as kanji which is made from leftover rice. Put the rice in an earthen pot with some water and leave it for the entire night. Have this water the next morning. This is a rich source of probiotics and helps in building immunity.
A barley based drink called rabri is famous in Rajasthan. One to two teaspoons of barley is mixed in buttermilk and left overnight. A rich source of probiotics, this drink can be had early morning. In the South we have ragi java and ragi buttermilk. To make this, take a spoon of ragi and mix it with some buttermilk or in warm milk. You can also mix flaxseed powder in some buttermilk. Flaxseeds are a good source of omega 3 fatty acids and are also rich in insoluble fibre which acts as a probiotic. A prebiotic and probiotic source together includes a glass of buttermilk with flaxseed powder.
Herbal teas boost immunity as well. Opt for the following teas:
When eating, include a lot of rainbow colored vegetables and fruits in UR diet. Include at least one salad and five serving of fruits and vegetables in your diet. Have fruits mid-morning or till 4pm because metabolism slows down after that. Diabetics can incorporate one fruit at around 11.30 in the morning.
Foods to avoid:
Foods that are processed and have high amounts of sugar and fat
Hydration is of utmost importance. If you’re recovering from Covid-19 and have symptoms like ‘dry mouth’, try to increase your fluid intake. Include soups and smoothies. If you have fatigue and body pain, opt for bone broth and ragi java and foods with high electrolytes like coconut water. If you are not able to taste and smell properly post Covid-19, include foods in UR diet that not only build immunity but also foods that you like. Have them when you are hungry during the day.
Here’s a diet chart to help improve UR immunity:
Have a glass of warm water when you awake in the morning with some honey (avoid if you are diabetic).
For breakfast you can have ragi java, ragi idli or scrambled eggs.
Mid-morning have a green smoothie or pineapple and turmeric smoothie to curb inflammation.
For lunch you can opt for one salad, palak roti or millets and 1-2 cups of really good vegetable curry along with one cup of curd.
For snack time have sprouts or makhana bhel with green tea or UR choice of immune tea.
Ensure you eat UR dinner before sunset or by 7pm. This will help in digestion and good sleep.
Get adequate rest of 6-8 hours and include a little bit of exercise as well to boost UR immunity.
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