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Eat your way to strong immunity
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Eat your way to strong immunity

Our defence against seasonal flus and colds can be maximised with a diet that strengthens the immune system
food and nutrition, seasonal flu, season change, immunity 
Representational image | Shutterstock

Pre-summer blossoms cover cityscapes in bright hues and the idea of a Saturday morning picnic at the park seems perfect. But alas, someone in the nature-loving clique has fallen victim to season change and spooked the rest. The graze of a spring breeze is not to be – yet.  

It may not always be as easy to avoid viral infections during weather changes. Strong immunity definitely makes one get well soon. However, immunity, just like Rome, is not built in a day.   

Consuming a well-balanced diet ensures a constant flow of the required nutrients. This keeps the body’s reserves of vital nutrients full and fights infections when the time comes.  

“Deficiency of a single micronutrient can compromise the immune system,” points out Shifra Varadkar, sports and clinical nutritionist at Reliance Foundation Youth Sports, Mumbai, Maharashtra. 

A bevy of food-borne nutrients has been researched for their anti-viral and antioxidant properties over the years. Some of these nutrients such as vitamin C from citrus fruits, flavonoids from berries, and probiotics from yoghurt can support our system in more ways than one. 

Read more about citrus fruits here 

Read more about how vitamin C helps with good skin here      

Sharanya Shastry, chief clinical nutritionist at Apollo Spectra Hospitals, Bengaluru, Karnataka, says, “If you have a good immune system, you are less vulnerable to fall ill or develop a seasonal flu. This is why it is important to have a food-healthy immune system.”  

“However, there is no single superfood to help you cope with the illnesses caused due to seasonal changes,” adds Shastry.  

A ginger and garlic duet    

Often, a ginger or garlic tea comes to the rescue of those having a bad cough. Elders at home also advise having curd as one recovers from viral fever. As it turns out, these are not just old wives’ tales. 

Ginger and garlic have been found to have potent anti-bacterial and antioxidant properties. A 2021 study published in the International Journal of Basic & Clinical Pharmacology, conducted on a set of 100 children, revealed that a mix of honey and ginger along with medications significantly hastened recovery from a cold.   

Shastry says, “Both ginger and garlic have anti-viral and anti-bacterial effects on the body. They are powerful antioxidants and thus reduce the oxidative stress or the inflammation caused in the body.”  

Another 2014 review published in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews mentions one study where 146 randomly selected participants were given garlic for three months. The study concluded that garlic prevented the occurrence of cold in the participants. However, further research is needed to confirm the data.   

Varadkar adds, “Ginger and garlic impart their antimicrobial and antiviral properties due to their polyphenol content. However, there is still a lack of evidence on the extent they can relay protection against infections.”   

The power of antioxidants  

The immune system fights viruses through a multi-step process that involves recognising, attacking, and neutralising the viruses via antibodies in our body. But regular exposure to pollution, smoke, pesticides, processed and fried foods, sugar, and unhealthy fats can increase the oxidative stress in our body. 

In such cases, the tide of harmful free radicals in the body increases and hampers the antibodies responsible for our immunity. Varadkar says, “When the immune system is ‘activated’ on being exposed to an infection, antibodies need more energy to fight. High-energy foods along with antioxidants, [if taken] during such times, make sure that the body does not have any underlying chronic inflammation.”  

Foods rich in vitamin C such as citrus fruits, broccoli, and brussels sprouts, vitamin E sources such as spinach, almond and sunflower seeds, and zinc are considered potent antioxidants. Including these foods regularly in one’s diet can keep immunity intact.  

A review literature published in the Journal of Physics in 2020 stated the importance of vitamins and minerals in keeping the immune system oiled and running smoothly. Researchers also state that vitamin C deficiency increases the risk of getting viral and bacterial infections. 

Immunity from the gut  

A healthy gut microbiome supports the optimum functioning of the immune system by producing short-chain fatty acids and antimicrobial peptides. These compounds protect against harmful pathogens and suppress inflammation in the gut.   

On the other hand, an imbalance in gut bacteria, also known as gut dysbiosis, can lead to inflammation and weaken the body’s immunity, making it more vulnerable to infections and diseases.  

Varadkar says that the microbiota and innate immunity (cells that build immunity) engage in extensive bidirectional communication. “A dysbiotic microbiota [imbalanced microbiota] may actively alter the functions of intestinal immunity,” she adds.   

Shastry adds that the flu in general weakens the immune system, making one less energetic, causing cellular inflammation and disrupting the gut microbiota. Therefore, it is important to stay well hydrated, consume vitamin B-rich fruits and vegetables and include fermented foods to maintain a healthy gut.   

Expert advice  

Varadkar says, “Some of the other micronutrients that are important in maintaining a healthy immune system are vitamin A, vitamin D, B complex vitamins, iron and selenium.”  

Here are a few action points to keep your immune system oiled:   

  • Use raw turmeric as a food ingredient: its active compound curcumin acts as an antioxidant.  
  • Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as almonds, walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, and avocado.   
  • Coloured fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids are carrots, berries, and broccoli.   
  • Add to your meals a probiotic like home-set curd, which can be taken with rice, as a bowl of raita with raw vegetables, or as buttermilk.  
  • Prefer sauteed vegetables and choose dark greens for vitamin B complex  
  • Tender coconut water is good if one has fatigue or lost appetite   
  • Avoid dairy products like milk, paneer and cream which increase congestion and phlegm 

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