Health Topics

Healthy Living

July 2011
Gain Immunity This Monsoon
Ishi Khosla
With rains, come flu, fevers and unending infections – bacterial, viral and fungal – the city never seems to recover. For sensitive people, these can further aggravate allergies, skin, respiratory and digestive problems. While we can’t do much bout the rains, we can certainly beat the bugs by strengthening our immune system.

The Food-immunity Connection
The simplest way to boost immunity is through a good diet, plenty of exercise, yoga, adequate rest, sleep and stress control.

A diet consisting largely of junk food, refined sugar, white rice or refined fats, low in vitamins and minerals, can weaken the immune system. A healthy immune system requires a number of nutrients in balance, including proteins, essential fats, vitamins and minerals.

A diet consisting of a variety of foods, adequate calories, and rich in whole grains, pulses, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, low fat dairy and fatty fish, low in sugar, alcohol and bad fats, along with a healthy lifestyle, is the key to good immune function.

Protein plays an important role in the immune system, which is responsible for fighting infections by foreign substances. When the diet does not contain enough protein, the body cannot make as many antibodies as it needs. Besides protein, the nutrients that build immunity include beta-carotene, B complex vitamins, vitamin C and E, minerals including selenium, zinc, folic acid, iron, copper, and magnesium, prebiotic and probiotic foods.

Probiotics, the good friendly bacteria when administered in adequate amounts, promote the body's natural immunity, help in digestion and maintaining good health. They are essential and help keep the harmful bacteria suppressed. Good sources of probiotics include yoghurt, buttermilk (chaach), lassi and Kefir (thin drinkable yogurt).

Prebiotic is actually a substance found in other foods that feeds the probiotics (beneficial micro-organisms present in the gut) and in a way it is the probiotic's lunch. Good sources include whole grains, pulses, beans, vegetables, fruits and seeds.

Useful Foods to Boost Immunity

  • Whole grains: Oats, barley, millets
  • Pulses and legumes: Bengal gram, lentils, beans and soyabeans
  • Brightly coloured vegetables and fruits: Broccoli, garlic, ginger,onion, red grapes, amla
  • Nuts and seeds: Walnuts, Flax seeds, fenugreek seeds, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, sunflower seeds
  • Other foods: Yoghurt, wheat germ, alfalfa, fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, hilsa, purva), olives and olive oil, mustard oil, etc.

Special Dietary Guidelines for Monsoons
  • Light diet, which is low on fat and is easily digestible, is advised. Rich, oily and spicy food must be avoided as also extremely cold food and cold beverages.
  • Avoid street food, as the incidence of food borne illnesses shoots up in this weather due to favourable temperature for increased microbial growth(especially bacteria). Also, street food is exposed to dust and flies, which could also contribute to food borne illnesses.
  • Avoid leftover food: Cooked food should always be refrigerated and preferably consumed within the same day.
  • Drink abundant fluid:All forms of beverages are beneficial.
  • Regulate the quality of drinking water: With rains, water borne infections like typhoid, cholera, hepatitis and diarrhea are also on the rise. Besides general hygiene and precautions in food, quality of water also needs to be regulated. Unfortunately, most tap and well water is not safe for drinking due to heavy industrial and environmental pollution. Water supplies from municipalities rarely meet drinking water standards.
A good water filtration system installed in our home is the only way to monitor and ensure the quality and safety of drinking water. Water from community water system can definitely be treated / purified at home level by either of the processes – boiling, chemical treatment, filtration or reverse osmosis. Boiling water will kill most types of disease-causing organisms that may be present. If you can't boil water, chlorine and iodine are the two chemicals commonly used to treat water. Both disinfectants work much better in warm water.

  • Water must be treated to avoid any water borne infections.
  • When on the move, purified mineral water bottle is any day better than regular tap water.
  • Do not re-use packaged water bottles for storing water.

Guidelines to Combat Flu during Monsoons
  • Hot liquids like soups, broths, hot milk, hot water, tea, ginger and tulsi tea provide relief and help fight infections.
  • Useful herbs in flu include tulsi, garlic, ginger and honey.
  • In the initial stages of cold, anti-inflammatory ginger with honey provides relief, prevents accumulation of phlegm and has expectorant effects.
  • ¼- ½ teaspoon of haldi boiled in milk or made into a pill has anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.
  • 2-3 cloves of crushed garlic help boost immunity and act as a decongestant. It also has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, and prevents secondary infection from developing.
  • If symptoms persist, probiotic supplements and foods are useful to boost immunity in general, and can be useful during the infection as well.
  • Concoctions of ayurvedic or yunani herbs like Doshandaa are extremely beneficial during the flu and shorten the duration of flu by preventing secondary infections.
Ishi Khosla is a Clinical Nutritionist and Director - Whole Foods India.
  • The information on this site does not constitute medical advice and is not intended to be a substitute for medical care provided by a physician.
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