Delhi-based nutritionist Dr. Akanksha Mishra talks about the importance of well-balanced diets to boost our immunity, and how we can make regular Indian meals more nutritious.
Indian food contains various nutrients necessary for the healthy functioning of the body as well as warding off disease, says Delhi-based nutritionist Dr. Akanksha Mishra. However, it can be high on carbohydrates and low on protein, which is not good for our health as well as our immune system.
The immune system is influenced by various factors — sleep, stress, exercise, and nutrition. Experts believe that a diet which includes all the essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, iron, protein, zinc, selenium etc, is important for the body to function normally as well as the immune system to function optimally.
“The main aim of nourishment is not merely to gain energy and protein, but to enhance resistance against ailments with some specific nutriment and to turn the inflammatory response in someone’s best interests,” says a study published in the Journal of Obesity & Weight Loss Therapy.
According to the world Health Organization (WHO), “better nutrition is related to improved infant, child and maternal health, stronger immune systems, safer pregnancy and childbirth, lower risk of non-communicable diseases (such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease), and longevity”.
- How does our diet impact our immunity?
- Are undernourished people at greater risk of infections?
- Is the Mediterranean diet good for immunity?
- How should we make Indian food more healthy?
How does our diet impact our immunity?
The immune system protects you against different microorganisms that cause disease. Your immune response is impacted by your diet, exercise, stress, as well as age. I endorse a well-balanced diet; it helps you maintain your weight and prevents disease. You can fend off infections, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases, if you are eating a balanced diet.
Your meals should contain all types of nutrients in a healthy ratio — carbs, protein, vitamins, and minerals. All of these help your body to function properly. If your body functions properly, all your cells, including immune cells will function properly and they will respond on time. Whenever these cells find any microbes, virus and bacteria, or any other type of pathogens, they will act accordingly. If you have nutritional deficiencies, and if you are not eating a balanced meal, the production and the functioning of immune cells and antibodies is impaired.
But we have to remember that it is not only about your diet. You also have to work on your lifestyle, stress patterns, avoid smoking, limit alcohol consumption, all of these things impact your immunity.
We have to remember that it is not only about your diet. You also have to work on your lifestyle, stress patterns, avoid smoking, limit alcohol consumption, all of these things impact your immunity.
Research says that those who are undernourished are at greater risk of bacterial and viral infections, could you tell us more about that?
It is true, undernutrition can be a big risk for both low socio-economic and high socioeconomic groups.
We need to understand how the immune system works. If you are undernourished, the body will be in a deficiency mode and not able to work optimally. In that situation you will not be able to fight any type of disease and infection. If you are falling sick frequently, it is possible that you have a vitamin D deficiency. You don’t necessarily have to add exotic foods in your diet to stay healthy. Even simple things like roasted chana (whole black grams) with jaggery, seasonal fruits, vegetables like spinach, these are rich in zinc, selenium, fiber, and great for your immune system.
You don’t necessarily have to add exotic foods in your diet to stay healthy. Even simple things like roasted chana (whole black grams) with jaggery, seasonal fruits, vegetables like spinach, these are rich in zinc, selenium, fiber, and great for your immune system.
We have read that the Mediterranean diet is good for immunity. Could you tell us about that? Are there other diets that are good for immunity?
Like I said, I personally believe in a balanced diet. If you are talking of a specific kind of a diet — Keto, Atkins, or General Motors (GM diet). Out of all these, the Meditteranean diet is one of the best to follow. There are a lot of studies which confirm that the Meditteranean diet is good for the heart, for obesity, and other chronic diseases. It has a good combination of various food groups, and nutrients like vitamins, protein, and carbs. I don’t think diets like Keto are as good for immunity as the Meditteranean diet. In keto, for example, you are eating a lot of fat, and you lose out on your carbs. It is not sustainable, and secondly, you can face a lot of other health issues. Whenever you are following any diet, you have to think of sustainability, how long can you follow a particular diet. It has to be a lifetime thing.
Tell us about the Indian diet? What are the Indian foods that we should include to boost our immunity and what should we avoid?
The Indian diet is a great diet. We have a good combination of everything. For carbs, we have chapati or rice; for proteins, we have dal, sambhar, chole (chickpeas), paneer, fish, eggs, and meat. For minerals, fibre and vitamins, we have a lot of colourful vegetables and fruits. The Indian diet is a good combination of nutrients and food groups.
To boost our immunity, we have to increase our protein intake, as the Indian diet can be high on carbs and low on proteins. You can add eggs, fish and chicken if you are non-vegetarian. Otherwise, pulses and legumes are a good source of protein. Nuts and seeds are a good source of different types of minerals — zinc, selenium, and others. Almonds, walnuts and chia seeds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds, they have different types of minerals, which can help boost our immunity. We should also add all the colourful fruits and vegetables. I always tell my patients to take two-three fruits in a day, one should be juicy and one should be colorful, so you can get vitamin A, B, and vitamin C as well. You can get iron and fibre from green, leafy vegetables.
To boost our immunity, we have to increase our protein intake, as the Indian diet can be high on carbs and low on proteins. You can add eggs, fish and chicken if you are non-vegetarian. Otherwise, pulses and legumes are a good source of protein. Nuts and seeds are a good source of different types of minerals — zinc, selenium, and others. Almonds, walnuts and chia seeds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds, they have different types of minerals, which can help boost our immunity. We should also add all the colourful fruits and vegetables.
We should add turmeric to our food, which we anyway do in Indian food. There are many benefits to consuming turmeric. We already drink golden/turmeric milk; in the West as well people consume it in the form of supplements, or turmeric latte. It is beneficial. Having a glass of turmeric milk at night is good for you, unless you are lactose intolerant. In that case, you can use soy milk or almond milk. Apart from turmeric, you should also add garlic, ginger, cayenne, and cinnamon to your food, they have a lot of good properties.
I do want to add that if you are drinking kadha (a concoction of boiled herbs), there are a lot of side effects to it. If you are drinking it, you shouldn’t do it everyday, once in three days is more than enough. Otherwise, you might end up with an ulcer, acidity, or gastric issues.
Lastly, if you want to boost your immunity, you should be eating fresh, home cooked food as much as you can. Avoid street food especially now. Be careful with your water, make sure you are drinking filtered, RO (reverse osmosis), or boiled water. Junk food and ultra-processed food like Coke, Pepsi, chips, these don’t have any nutrients, they have carbs and trans fat. These can also suppress your immunity.
Dr. Akanksha Mishra
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