“Anything that makes your heart healthy, your lungs healthy, and kidneys healthy, will make your immune system healthy.” –Professor Marc Pellegrini
The widespread proliferation of Covid-19 seems to escalate each day across the globe. Currently, there is no known vaccine to stop the infection or boost our immune system against this deadly virus. In trying times like these, we have to cope with stress, fear, anxiety and should act rationally and dispassionately. This is the time when fitness and our body’s natural defences are most needed.
Our immune system is a complicated grid of body cells, tissues, chemicals, and organs, which combine to keep us healthy and safe from diseases by guarding us against contagious micro-organisms. In other words, it’s our body’s defence mechanism against viruses, infections, and illnesses.
Immunity, food, and nutrition
Good health starts with the food on your plate. But only eating food packed with nutrients does not help. A good night’s sleep and regular exercise regimen should also take foremost priority to keep ourselves strong, alive and kicking.
“Since it is a virus (coronavirus) which has never mutated in human beings before, there is no current solution to it. Prevention is the best way. How we keep our immune system strong will not just help us with coronavirus but everyday bugs that exist all around us as well as pollution, contamination in food,” said Luke Coutinho, a globally renowned holistic lifestyle coach, and an award-winning holistic nutritionist.
The daily food you have been taking is maybe nourishing enough to keep you healthy. You might, however, like to have a look at some of those foods that may add a little more to your diet in terms of nutrition and the potency to boost your immune system.
No single food or the food mentioned below is a panacea for the coronavirus, but years of research by scientists have established the nutritious value and the immune-building properties found in them, which may help keep bacteria and infections at bay and make you strong and healthy.
The matter requires all the more urgent vigilance and action if you fall into the risk factor such as above 50 years, have an underlying illness like diabetes or hypertension.
We all know about ground turmeric, besar in Nepali and haldi in Hindi, simply because it is a mainstay of Nepali as well as Indian cookery (Read the full story).
Turmeric has an ancient history of being used as a medicinal herb with healing properties, both in Nepali and Indian traditions. You must have tried the piping hot turmeric, ginger and salt concoction untold times, a home remedy for cold and cough.
The ‘science of life’ Ayurveda propounds turmeric helps balance the three energetic forces of nature: the Vata (wind energy), Pitta (fire energy) and Kapha (water energy), collectively called the Dosha. From a simple cold to digestion, asthma, anemia to diabetes, cholesterol and even cancer prevention and management, turmeric is said to help as a healing force.
The secret behind the goodness of turmeric lies in ‘curcumin’, the naturally occurring potent ingredient found in turmeric, which is said to work as an anti-inflammatory agent. Researchers maintain curcumin’s antiviral and antibacterial activity helps counteract various important human pathogens like the influenza virus, hepatitis C virus, HIV and strains of Staphylococcus.
Although it’s an open secret that we take turmeric every day as it’s used in our cooking, maybe there is no harm in adding a pinch or two of it more to your dal (lentils) or curry or try it with hot water first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. Maybe you might fancy a fad-drink, golden latte, to stimulate your palate.
If you believe in Ayurveda, garlic is recognised as a fundamental element for the making of its medicines. It produces heat in the body and is said to purify our blood. It’s also touted as a ‘superfood’ for its proven health benefits. Again like turmeric, it is used in our staple food like curries and meat as a taste-maker for its distinct flavour.
Science-backed research works by the world scientists have also found garlic to contain anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. They claim that the presence of a compound called ‘allicin’ or Vitamin B-4, besides preventing common colds, helps, to boost body immunity.
Some researchers also state it assists in lowering the risk of developing lung cancer. You may gulp down with water a clove of raw garlic early morning—maybe just a half-cut clove for a start. Practice moderation, start slow—maybe every alternate day.
Ginger, again is an indispensable condiment for our curries and meat dishes. Known to have medicinal properties, ginger, turmeric, and salt have been a potent remedy for common cold and sore throat, always administered by our grandmas and moms.
It has been long since used for natural or alternative herbal remedies for various ailments. It is said to help digestion, reduce nausea and help fight the flu and common cold. Adding ginger to tea is quite popular in both Nepal and India, especially in the fall and winter months.
Modern studies, too, have shown that ginger contains anti-oxidant and potent anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties. Its antibacterial compound is said to help fight off viral activity against respiratory tract infection. Scientific studies have revealed its concentration of plant compounds such as ‘gingerol’ and ‘zingerone’, “inhibit viral replication and prevent viruses from entering host cells.”
You may consider using an extra slice of ginger to your curry, chicken or yellow dal (pulse). Besides, you can combine sliced ginger with hot water, a dash of honey, and lemon to make a flavoury healthy cocktail.
Citrus fruits are known as ‘agrumes’, which stands for “sour fruits” such as oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, lemons, limes, and pomelos (popular among Nepali women), to name a few.
Studies have come up with promising test results that the Vitamin C in citric fruits like limes, lemons, oranges, and grapefruits help immensely to strengthen our body immunity. Citrus also contains flavonoids, which include anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties for fighting viruses like colds and the flu. You may incorporate an orange a day in your daily diet, or if you like lemon, why not a hot lemon drink as an option?
This is the time you thought about taking a nut, which is widely known for its nutritious values including a defensive mechanism against viruses. At the Institute of Food Research in Norwich, Norfolk, England, researchers revealed that naturally occurring chemicals found in the skin of almonds boost the immune system’s response to viral infections.
Dr. Giuseppina Mandalari of Institute of Food Research was quoted by ‘The Daily Telegraph’ as saying, “Almond skins are able to stimulate the immune response and thus contribute to antiviral immune defence.” The article also explained that almonds should be taken with the skins intact (without blanching in hot water). The findings were published in the Immunology Letters journal.
Besides strengthening our immunity, almonds are packed with monounsaturated ‘good’ fats and help reduce the risk of heart disease and lower the spike in LDL or bad cholesterol level. For tips, you can start off with eight to 10 whole almonds a day. My mother, aged 94, has been taking almonds every day for more than two decades.
Amala (Indian gooseberry)
The goodness and natural healing properties of amala have been passed down to us from generations from the days of yore. Ayurveda holds it as a ‘rasayana’ (elixir). It enjoys the role of an essential ingredient in the making of varied Ayurveda medicines (Read the full story).
A potent source of nutrients and minerals, science has backed this fruit to contain a high concentration of vitamins A and C. Surprisingly, one small berry contains as much vitamin C as approximately two oranges. Besides, it is rich in antioxidants, flavonoids, gallic acids, and tannins, which help boost our defence against diseases and cut down on the effects of free radicals in our metabolism.
Mushrooms, or champignons as they are also called, are a powerhouse of micronutrients. From time immemorial, mushrooms have been used throughout Asia for medicinal and therapeutic purposes, too (Read the full story).
The use of mushrooms in Oriental herbal medicine was said to have been practised since ages. Mushrooms contain most of the essential elements that our body needs for nourishment, to safeguard us against diseases and to maintain overall good health and wellbeing.
Button mushrooms are considered a rich source of B-Vitamins like riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, iron, and Selenium. Apart from that, science-backed researches support them to contain antioxidant/anti-Inflammatory properties called ergothioneine and polyphenols, which help fortify our immune system.
With zero sugar, low in sodium and high in potassium, low in carbohydrate and high in fibre, it is packed with good sources of B-vitamins like riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, iron, and selenium. Scientists maintain a powerful antioxidant called ergothioneine in them fortifies your immune system by eradicating the unwanted free radicals.
Rich in linoleic acid that subdues the harmful effects of excess oestrogen (in females), and beta-glucans that thwart the growth of cancerous cells, mushrooms are being hailed as a possible cure for these cancers.
To remain healthy, we need to keep our guts in good shape. A strain of probiotics called lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, clinically proven to be found in yogurt, helps keep our guts healthy. It assists our digestive system and boosts our body’s overall immunity.
The bacteria in yogurt, also called the “good” or “helpful” bacteria, is also rich in proteins, calcium, vitamin B-2, vitamin B-12, potassium, and magnesium. Since the elderly and people with chronic ailments like diabetes and hypertension are more susceptible to viruses, experts advise them to take yogurt regularly to keep their bowels free from inflammatory diseases and infections.
Time and again, science has backed the medicinal properties of tulasi. Also called the holy basil (Ocimum Sanctum), tulasi is a common plant grown in most households in Nepal and India for its sacred place in the Hindu religion. It is believed a few drops of tulasi water added in food can purify and kill germs. If taken with hot water or as tulasi tea, it is said to work wonders against cough, cold and fever.
Scientists maintain that phytochemicals, bio-flavonoids and anti-oxidants compounds found in tulasi, such as the Rosmarinus acid helps to ward off fever and attacks by germicidal, fungicidal, bacterial and viral respiratory infection. Other herbs like thyme and oregano are also considered effective against viral infections.
A peer-reviewed research paper published in a medical journal submitted by Rafiq A Rather and Madhulika Bhagaty elucidated, “Piperine is an active alkaloid with an excellent spectrum of therapeutic activities such as anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, anti-asthmatic, anti-convulsion, anti-mutagenic, anti-micro-bacterial, anti-amoebic, and anti-cancer activities.”
Ayurveda maintains that the substance called piperine in black pepper and its essential oil helps cure disorders and maladies such as the respiratory infection, common fever, rheumatism, arthritis and cuts down the risks of cancer.
Given that our body is constituted of two-thirds of water (Read the story), our body cells need a perennial supply of water or fluids to keep them functional. It is not only the athletes or those who do rigorous workouts, or for that matter, persons involved in heavy manual work tend to get dehydrated–anyone can.
“In fact, some fruits and vegetables are more than 90 per cent water — including cantaloupe, strawberries, watermelon, cucumber, celery, lettuce, leafy greens, zucchini, tomatoes, and bell peppers,” says Johanna Sakimura, a registered dietician based in New York metro area.
But you still need water to meet your body’s full requirement. Drink one-and-half to two litres of water each day and beat dehydration to the punch!
All vegetables including the leafy greens and the cruciferous are a good source of vitamins and minerals that keep us strong against diseases. They are by far Nature’s nutritious best (Read the story). Rich in a host of essential nutrients such as lutein, zeaxanthin, magnesium, folic acids, natural fibre, and beta-carotene, green vegetables including the dark leafy ones are worth their weight in gold.
All vegetables, inarguably, help build our immune system strong. Following the outbreak of Covid-19, broccoli seems to have run short in the supermarkets in Europe and America much the same as the ubiquitous tissue paper and hand sanitiser.
“Our traditional Nepali staple dal-bhat is no less wholesome than any other food in the world, enjoy eating it. Just give it a little tweak to add a little more variety, a shift to nutrient-dense vegetables,” says Dixya Bhattarai, a registered dietitian and nutritionist, based in Dallas, Texas, USA (read the interview).
Care, measure and moderation should always be practised when a new food item is incorporated in your diet plan. If you have underlying ailments like diabetes, hypertension or heart disease, it is wise to take your doctor’s advice.
Carefully observe the directives issued by the WHO regarding the safety measures and stick like glue to them. Nothing can be less sacrosanct at this hour of crisis. Stay safe, eat right and keep fit.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the above text are solely research-based and the dietary information given does not constitute any medical advice. Cross-reference and reader discretion are solicited. It is further suggested readers seek their healthcare provider’s advice or professional help when needed.