Post COVID-19 pandemic, people are increasingly becoming aware of the importance of good hygiene, healthy food for ensuring optimal immunity to keep viral infections (/communicable diseases) at bay. As for diet, ‘diversity and variety’ is the magic bullet!
What is IMMUNITY?
It’s the ability of your body to resist a particular infection or toxin by the action of specific body cells. A healthy IMMUNE SYSTEM is essential to help the body fight against various infections & attacks by Viruses & bacteria. It is also important to take care of your IMMUNITY even when you are NOT SICK.
ROLE OF SPECIFIC NUTRIENTS IN MAINTAINING OPTIMAL IMMUNE FUNCTION
Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and phytonutrients that are primarily available in fruits, vegetables, greens, nuts, and whole grains play crucial role in maintaining optimal immune function. These nutrients:
- enhance both immune function and prevent infection, keep inflammation under control and prevent tissue damage
- aid immune memory formation that helps prevent reinfection with the same pathogen
- help clear toxins, produced in large quantities in the body during infection and immune response, and
- increase beneficial probiotic bacteria in the intestine, that favour good immune function and reduce inflammation.
Vitamins A, E and D - the three fat soluble vitamins; C & B vitamins, and minerals such as zinc, selenium, iron, copper etc. and phytonutrients, amino acids, fatty acids are necessary for optimal immune function.
It is prudent to obtain these nutrients through a good balanced diet. Though deficiency of one or more of these nutrients can increase the frequency and severity of infections.
More than 80% Indians suffer from micronutrient deficiencies which are essential for a healthy immune system:
- Iron deficiency leading to anaemia remain the biggest concern today, with >50% Indian women being anaemic. This leads to impaired immune function, more chances of falling sick, loss of concentration in kids and hence, less school attendance etc.
- Zinc deficiency: Zinc is critical for cellular immunity; physical growth and its deficiency impairs cellular function leading to increased risk of gastrointestinal problems like diarrhoea and hence infections and even diseases
- Vit A deficiency leads to higher chances of respiratory tract infections, probably more infections in chest and throat!
- Vit D deficiency: Adults who have low vitamin D levels are more likely to report having had a recent cough, cold, or upper respiratory tract infection with more incidences of asthma.
- Vit B12 deficiency: A lack of vitamin B12 in your diet lead to pernicious anaemia. Pernicious anaemia is an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to attack stomach cells, thus inhibiting the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12
Hence, its critical to fix these nutrient deficiencies for a healthy immune system and a healthy life!
Diet tips for a healthy immune system:
- Ensure substantial servings of fresh fruits and vegetables (as much as 450 to 500gm per day per person) and prefer whole grains. Papaya, guava, apple, grapes, mango, and other fruits are rich in beta carotene, vitamin C, potassium, and B vitamins. Green leafy vegetables, millets are rich sources of Vitamin A, C and E, antioxidants, and fibre
- Condiments, spices and herbs such as turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, coriander, basil leaves, moringa leaves etc., are good sources of bioactive elements that help build good immune function
- Curd is a source of many good bacteria or probiotics, improves gut health which lays foundation for good immunity
- Limit consumption of highly processed foods, avoid fruit juices & carbonated drinks - these are high in fat, salt, and sugar, and poor in nutrients.
- Avoid too much fat (no more than 30 gm/person/day - preferably more than 2 varieties of oils), salt (no more than 5gm/person/day), and sugar is just calories with no nutrients, hence, keep it to bare minimum.
- Nutrition supplements, as a part of a balanced diet, can also be helpful in combating the deficiencies, under physicians advise. Good Monk is one such Nutrition mix product which has all the required micronutrients(Iron, Zinc, Vit A, Vit D and Vit B12) and probiotics for a healthy immune system.
About the Author:
Senior Nutritionist, M.Sc. Foods and Nutrition, DU
12+ years of experience in Nestle, Dabur, GSK