What to eat to build your immunity in Corona times
The good news is that it is never too late to start building your immunity because the human body can start healing and becoming stronger in a short span of time.
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Suddenly there is a new-found interest in immunity, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, immunity is not something you can gain with a magic pill. It simply reflects the overall health that you build over time if you treat your body right. But the good news is that it is never too late to start building your immunity because the human body is such an amazing creation, that it can start healing and becoming stronger in a short span of time. We just need to follow some principles. There is consensus among the best medical and health experts on these simple but highly effective principles:
1. Eat an unprocessed diet. Particularly, focus on colourful fruits and vegetables, and fibre-rich whole grains and beans or legumes.
2. Don’t smoke. Avoid, or at least limit alcohol intake.
3. Get moderate but regular exercise. Exercise boosts immunity but overexertion causes inflammation.
4. Practice stress management and get enough sleep.
5. Get regular sunshine. Go outdoors and enjoy nature.
Stress can impair immunity in a big way because the stress hormone — cortisol — makes it harder for our cells (lymphocytes) to put out antibodies to fight illness, virus or bacteria.
Here some simple but most effective rules for choosing what we eat:
Importance of fruits and vegetables
We all know that immunity reduces with age. But guess what happened when researchers in Belfast split elderly people (65-85 years) into two groups.
Over a few months, they fed one group a minimum of five helpings of fruits and veggies daily (that is recommended by WHO). The other group ate far less quantity of fruits and vegetables. All of them were then given the pneumonia vaccine and their antibody response was tested. Those eating more fruits and veggies had an 82 per cent greater antibody response to the vaccine, implying a significantly improved immunity.
The gut connection
There is now mounting evidence on how intrinsically our gut is connected to our brain, the diseases we get and how good our immunity is. Our gut covers more area than a tennis court and has only a thin microscopic layer that separates it from all toxins, bacteria and viruses that come directly from the food we eat. The gut has more microorganisms than the galaxy has stars. When the balance between our good and bad microbes gets ruined, we are in trouble. Our good microbes need a fibre-rich diet to thrive since they feast on fibre. Fibre is found in plants — fruits, vegetables and highest levels in whole grains, beans and lentils. The Indian diet is naturally rich in beans and legumes, but most Indians eat refined carbohydrates.
A big healthy change would be to switch to whole wheat atta, brown or red rice, and try other millets like bajra, raagi, jowar, etc. Mushrooms are also extremely important for the gut since they boost the secretion of IgA. This is an antibody that offers the best line of defence for the microscopic layer covering our gut.
Colour your platter
Whether it’s the chlorophyll found in greens, the beta-carotene that makes carrots red and sweet, and potatoes orange, the lycopene in red tomatoes or anthocyanin pigments that make blueberries blue, coloured plant foods are the healthiest as they contain the highest phytochemicals. But even here, some veggies just stand out.
Superstar veggies: Greens by far are the healthiest because many other plant pigments are wrapped together in them. You might have noticed how green leaves often change colour in seasons. Eating greens daily has been directly linked with better immunity, reduced disease and prolonged life.
Cruciferous vegetables: Veggies like kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc. contain compounds that maintain the cells responsible for intestinal defence from pathogens and toxins. These vegetables exclusively contain a compound called sulforaphane, considered a ‘de-toxicant’.
Onions and garlic: These superfoods from the scallion family contain compounds like quercetin, anthocyanin, alliin, etc. that have strong anti-bacterial and anti-viral compounds.
Herbs and spices: There is a reason that spices and herbs like turmeric, ginger, black pepper, clove, amla, etc. have an exalted status in Ayurveda. By far, these contain the highest antioxidants that are anti-inflammatory, healing and preventive. A single teaspoon of amla has 753 antioxidant units. Compare this to the antioxidants found in two eggs (that give eight units) and a glass of milk (that has 10 units). Green tea also falls in this high antioxidant category.
Healthy Fats: No, we are not talking about the fatty cooking-oil types, but those fats found naturally in nuts like walnuts, almonds, cashews, etc., and seeds like flax, pumpkin, chia, sunflower. These are rich in Omega-3, contain minerals like zinc, magnesium and selenium that are critical for immunity and help in the absorption of Vitamins A, D and E.
One may ask if there are so many healthy compounds, vitamins and minerals in these foods, wouldn’t it be easier to just buy a combination of supplements and pop them regularly? The answer is no. And that’s because natural whole foods have a combination of different compounds that work in perfect synthesis. Research has shown that if you isolate a compound, not only does it not have the same effect, but could also become toxic. It is clear that we can’t capture Mother Nature in a capsule. Instead, it is more prudent to depend on healthy foods that help the human body thrive.