‘A healthy outside starts from the inside’ — this can be achieved with a few simple dos and don’ts. But it must be noted that no single food can help build immunity. One needs to consume desired amount of all nutrients, water and eat a variety of foods within each food group to ensure adequate intake of important nutrients, recommends Dr Anita Jatana, chief dietician, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital and convenor, Indian Dietetics Association – Delhi.
* Proteins are one of the most critical nutrients that support our immune system. Indians usually tend to consume lesser amount of proteins since many of us are vegetarians. So simple ways of including proteins is pulses, beans, legumes, milk and milk products, nuts and oil seeds, apart from eggs and non-vegetarian foods. Vitamin C is not only a physiological antioxidant but also helps to regenerate other antioxidants within the body. Include vitamin C rich foods like amla, guava, oranges, lemon, tomato, bell peppers and green chillies.
* Vitamin D, the ‘sunshine vitamin’, has several important functions. Besides being essential for bone health, it is important in improving resistance to certain diseases and even fight depression. It is found in fatty fish, eggs and fortified foods like milk, cereals etc. Getting sunlight exposure between 11am to 1 pm, for 20-30 minutes is a good way to ensure its availability.
* Zinc deficiency can impact the immune system. Natural sources of zinc are flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, black sesame seeds, whole legumes, dark chocolates and nuts.
* Vitamin A is an important antioxidant nutrient that helps the body fight against infections. All dark green leafy vegetables, papaya, pumpkin, carrots and mango are good sources.
* Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant vitamin and critical for the proper functioning of the immune system. Good sources of this vitamin are nuts like almonds, pistachio and seeds like sunflower seeds, walnuts, flaxseeds, chia and sunflower seeds.
* Iron, an important part of your blood, plays a vital role in helping the body fight infections. You can choose non-vegetarian sources such as lean meat, fish, eggs, or vegetarian sources like drumstick leaves, mint leaves, nuts to get your daily dose of iron. To bust a common myth, beetroot and apples are not good sources of iron as it is commonly believed, points out Dr Jatana.
* Other important micronutrients that can impact our immune system are selenium, B6, B12, folate and magnesium. Indians are blessed to have herbs and condiments right in their kitchen and turmeric, tulsi, clove, garlic, ginger and cinnamon can play an important role in immunity building.
* Studies have shown that excess intake of foods rich in sugar, refined flour and saturated fats such as sweetened beverages, high fat baked foods, fried foods, alcohol has shown to have harmful impact on the immune system and hence should be avoided or consumed in moderation.
* Along with balanced diet rich in above mentioned macro and micronutrients, it is also important to have a good sleep pattern, incorporate exercise in the daily routine and manage stress to stay active and healthy.
Always remember – your health is in your hands, so plan your diet and lifestyle in such a way that supports your body in building immunity.
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