A healthy immune system is the first line of defense against germs and infection. But there are times when it fails, making is susceptible to illnesses. With the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak, we’ve discovered the importance of a healthy immunity. From regular exercise to adequate sleep and stress management, there are several lifestyle changes that help build a system that keeps unwanted disease-causing virus and bacteria at bay.
On the occasion of World Health Day, we asked nutritionists from across India how they are ensuring a strong and healthy immune system. Here’s what we discovered:
1. Ghar ka khana
"The more the nutrients, the better the immunity," states Vasudha Sainik, a clinical nutritionist and certified diabetes educator from Mumbai. You can strengthen your immune system with nutritious and wholesome home-cooked meals, that include both macro and micronutrients, and by steering clear of processed food, believes Sainik and Sheryl Salis, a Mumbai-based nutritionist, nods in agreement.
Even though, Delhi-based Ekansh Taneja, a sports nutritionist, understands that processed food is bad for one's body, he hasn't completely cut it out of his diet. Ask him why and he promptly replies, "I need my gut to be versatile enough to digest everything."
For a nutrient-rich diet, celebrity nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar's approach is simple: eating traditional, home-cooked meals like her grandmother used to make. She feels that those recipes and methods used for creating those dishes had a lot of nutritional science associated. Salis follows the same principles and includes whole grains, millets, pulses, legumes, nuts, seeds, yogurt, coloured fruits and vegetables in her daily meals. These food items provide a boost of antioxidants to the body. She also includes spices, herbs and condiments such as tulsi, fennel seed, cumin seed, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cardamom and cinnamon for boosting immunity.
2. Drink plenty of fluids
Taneja says, “Staying hydrated ensures my aldosterone hormone, the hormone that maintains fluid levels in one’s body, is working at its peak efficiency. It avoids unwanted water retention and stress to the kidneys and enhances my nutrition absorption.” According to WHO guidelines for drinking–water quality, every individual must keep a minimum requirement of 42.9ml/kg.
Nutrition absorption aside, drinking plenty of fluids like water or fresh fruit/veggie juice help cleanse our liver, which in turns supports a strong immune system. Diwekar drinks sugarcane juice almost thrice a week for its liver cleansing properties among other health benefits, while Sainik goes for a juice made using leafy greens.
3. Exercise regularly
The way people talk about the immune system, it seems like a magic muscle that gets stronger as soon as we feed it nutrients. But it's just a misconception, says Salis. “The immune system is an overly complex system and cannot be built overnight.” Instead, she advocates making healthy lifestyle choices to nurture and nourish our body for a robust immune system.
Salis and Sainik begin their day with breathing exercises to calm their minds and support their immune systems. Salis follows it up oil pulling with a tablespoon of virgin coconut oil, which helps remove toxins and maintain oral hygiene.
Exercise is also an integral part of Taneja's daily routine. He says that it keeps his metabolism high and helps him get better sleep, which eventually helps strengthen the immune system.
4. Respect the circadian rhythm
A regulated circadian rhythm (an internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle) goes a long way in keeping immunity in check and hence, each of these nutritionists ensure they have a fixed sleeping and waking up time. The duration, however, differs. While Taneja sleeps for five to six hours every night, Salis prefers clocking in eight hours of her beauty sleep.
5. Supplements to the rescue
Even before the current work-from-home model became a mainstay, vitamin D deficiency was a common issue. Research has shown that low levels of vitamin D is a risk factor for contracting COVID-19 infection. “Vitamin D is difficult to get through food and I'm rarely stepping out in the sun given the current situation, so I take a supplement,” says Lovneet Batra, clinical nutritionist and founder, Nutrition by Lovneet. A regular dose of multivitamins also goes a long way. “I take a multivitamin on and off – basically eat it for a month or two and follow it up by a conscious break. And when I do, it is usually after breakfast,” shares Sainik. While Taneja focuses on Omega 3, vitamin C, vitamin D and plant protein. “The latter keeps my gut happy and therefore, my brain function is on point. Meanwhile, the others keep my immune system working at its peak.”