Do you fall sick at every turn of season or catch infections from a wheezing neighbour at a finger’s click? If your answer to these questions is yes, chances are your body’s natural immunity to stave off infections is compromised. Low immunity makes you susceptible not just to flu, cough and cold but also to more serious ailments like dengue, jaundice, malaria and other viral infections. Experts suggest that a combination of diet and lifestyle changes helps boost the body’s immunity. And what if you were told that spices and herbs like turmeric, garlic, ginger, black pepper, cumin seeds, which are easily available in most Indian kitchens, are great immunomodulators? In other words, they regularise or normalise the immune system.
“For the immune system to function well, it is essential to have balance and harmony between our food and lifestyle”, says Dr Mitali Madhusmita, head doctor at Art of Living’s Sri Sri Tattva Panchakarma, who suggests a few dietary dos and don’ts to build a good immune system.
*Processed foods produce ama (or toxins) that can reduce immunity
Foods that are processed, canned, frozen, packed or hard to digest should be avoided as they create a lot of ama. Due to improper digestion such foods fail to get assimilated in the body, producing a sticky toxin that gets stored in the body in the form of ama, according to Ayurveda. Ama accumulation is hazardous to your overall health and immunity. If you feel weak and tired for no specific reason, it could be an indicator of ama accumulation in your body. Āma, due to its sticky nature, blocks the channels of body fluids, contaminates body tissues, and can be a cause for future illnesses.
*Whole grains, legumes and dairy improve life force
Locally grown fruits and vegetables must always be preferred over imported and frozen ones as they are comparatively fresh and contain more micronutrients. Including fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables in your diet will also improve your prana or life force. According to ayurveda, a person can be in a balanced physical and mental state only when there is a good amount of prana flowing freely throughout one’s body. Good prana level translates to good energy level in the body and a blissful state of mind. Freshly cooked whole grains, legumes and light dairy products should also be included in your diet, as these are also high in prana.
*Balance is important in cooking too
Properly cooked food is easy to digest. Overcooking it makes it lose its micronutrients whereas undercooked food is bad for digestion and hampers liver function. Freshly prepared food has good amount of prana in it, as the oxygen flow is more; this has a regenerative effect on the immune system. Stale food increases toxins in the body. Reheating increases the trans fat in the food, which leads to increase in cholesterol. Vegetables and fruits that are cut and stored in refrigerator for long are also devoid of micronutrients.
*Gorging on antioxidants
Antioxidants play a key role in maintaining our immunity and are found in abundance in seasonal fruits like guava, pomegranate and fresh berries, and in fresh vegetables like broccoli which is also an excellent source of vitamin B12 and vitamin D. Several micronutrients have potent antioxidant properties. These include beta-carotene found in carrots and sweet potatoes, lycopene found in fresh tomatoes and watermelons, vitamin A found in mangoes and papayas, vitamin C found in citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits, and vitamin E found in all the nuts like almond, hazelnut, sunflower seeds etc.
Vitamin C is a great immunity booster and provides immediate relief in flu, cough and cold whereas vitamin E is nectar for female health. It may be surprising for you to know that most of these different micronutrients have their own distinctive colour and it is their presence that brings about the color of the fruits and vegetables. Consuming different colored vegetables ensures that you are getting different micronutrients. Chia seeds, sesame seeds, flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds also must be consumed regularly as these are powerhouses of many micronutrients and antioxidants and are also effective in lubricating the joints.
*Avoid taking supplements
Depending on regular supplements may hamper the body’s natural ability to synthesise them from the food we eat, and may also cause certain imbalances in the body. Instead of depending on regular supplements like certain vitamins, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium etc, it is advisable to have a healthy regimen and a balanced diet. Breakfast should be a combination of carbohydrate, protein and calcium.
Calcium with carbohydrate gives a feeling of fullness. Calcium rich food neutralises our acidic level and helps maintain bone health. Protein is good for brain and helps maintain body shape. Carbohydrate and protein give mental nourishment. For lunch/dinner, 25 per cent meal pattern should be followed, wherein the meal should contain equal quantities of carbohydrates, protein, freshly cooked vegetables and fresh raw vegetable salad for roughage. Dinner must be finished at least two hours before going to bed.
*Give your liver some rest
Proper liver function is essential for a good metabolism and immune system. Unhealthy habits like munching at midnight or after a meal impose extra load on the liver which in turn makes its function sluggish, and can lead to deficiency of Vitamins B12 and D, as these are synthesised by the liver itself. Additionally, it is essential to take good rest at night for the liver to function properly and hence we must always choose a lifestyle that is in accordance with nature.
*Take a break from food binging
Having the next meal even when the previous meal is not digested is unhealthy as it creates toxins in the body. Most people feel hungry within five hours of having a meal, but this time gap can vary from person to person. Also there can be times when the digestive fire is low, due to certain factors. In such cases, tender coconut water, cucumber, plain water or light soup like clear vegetable soup without starch can be consumed. You should have a full meal only when you feel hungry.
*Flush out the toxins
Consuming castor oil once a week with warm water or warm milk helps flush out toxins from the body. It is also vitally important to drink adequate amount of water for proper functioning of all systems and flushing out all the waste and toxins from the body.
“What we eat definitely plays a major role in shaping our health, but it is also important to pay attention to how we eat. Food should be consumed slowly and attentively, with a peaceful mind. The importance of maintaining healthy weight, doing regular exercise and yoga, and having proper sleep cannot be emphasised enough. Cleanliness is foremost and hence washing hands before each meal is also a must,” adds Dr Madhusmita.