As the fight against the second, more aggressive surge of COVID cases continues, our ability to ward off infections and not succumb to it, becomes the most essential factor.
Emotionally, mentally and physically this has become our lives biggest challenge. A strong immune system is one of the important saviours providing us the necessary protection besides social distancing and facial masks.
Good nutrition for a healthy gut, physical activity for the body, breathing exercises for the lungs, sound sleep for a relaxed mind and our strength to overcome fear goes a long way to sail through these tough times.
A huge part of our immune system is in our GI tract. The gut bacteria or micro biota is responsible for fighting off diseases and infections. As research goes not only does COVID 19 affect the respiratory system but the gastrointestinal tract too. Poor nutrition alters our gut bacteria in turn our immune response.
Key Vitamins/ Minerals are Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Zinc, iron and selenium.
Fruits such as guavas, gooseberries, oranges, mangoes, black currants and vegetables like drumsticks, red, yellow and green peppers, broccoli, parsley are a good source of Vitamin C.
Vitamin E can be obtained from Almonds, pistachios, Sunflower seeds, Avocados.
Dairy, fish, eggs have preformed levels of Vitamin A ,whereas carrots, papaya ,coloured peppers contain carotenoids.
Zinc can be obtained from various seeds like sesame,sunflower and pumpkin seeds,beans,nuts- Almonds,cashews.
Iron rich foods like raisins,dates, bajra,beans, beet root and leafy vegetables can be a part of one’s diet.
Selenium sources like Brazilian nuts, garlic and mushrooms can help the immune function.
Vitamin D or the sunshine Vitamin is absorbed through the skin the most. Exposure to sunlight proves to be beneficial but depending on the level of deficiency, supplementation should be done as prescribed by a physician.
Synbiotics: This is a combination of prebiotics and probiotics. Probiotics contain helpful bacteria for the gut and prebiotics contain fibers that stimulate immune cell activity and absorb nutrients. Yoghurts with a live culture, fermented food like idli and dhokla,kefir, Yakult, traditional buttermilk ,khimchi are some probiotics, whereas garlic, onions, oats, bananas apples, dry figs and raisins, chickpeas, wheat bran are rich in prebiotics.
Greek yoghurt with dry figs, or adding bran to the porridge, pickled cucumbers in brine with crushed garlic, ragi porridge with buttermilk are some ways of combining pre and probiotics.
Green juice: Start your day with a refreshing drink by adding mint, amla or kiwi, ginger, spinach and cucumber for a good dose of Vitamin C and A
Kadha: A decoction of ginger, holy basil, cinnamon stick, black cardamom seeds with organic honey or jaggery boiled in water, had twice a day provides the antioxidant boost.
Turmeric milk: Warm milk with a pinch of turmeric and crushed pepper has anti inflammatory properties, can protect us from infections and induce good sleep.
Fresh food: Antioxidants are an integral part of our diet. These help fight inflammation. One can obtain this by having a diet comprising of at least 5 coloured fruits and vegetables a day. It’s best to avoid refined and processed food.
Proteins: Adequate protein intake is essential for recovery, formation and growth of tissue health.
Dietary proteins are broken down into amino acids and these are absorbed and used to support the immune system.
Foods high in protein contain immune boosting nutrients and also contain zinc, a mineral vital for production of infection- fighting white blood cells.
Bioavailability of protein is higher in eggs, whey, dairy, fish, chicken, soy.
Hydration: It is essential to the immune system for regulating the fluid balance of our body, not only to detoxify but help transport nutrients through our blood stream.
Wellness for mental health:
Sleep: It’s important to de-stress and get 7-8 hours of sleep to rejuvenate. Sleep deprivation can cause health problems and disturb the immune system. Sufficient sleep helps improve the immune defence activity. High quality sleep as studies reveal, help to optimize one’s response to a vaccine.
Exercise: Due to the ongoing pandemic, walking in a park or going to a beach or hitting a gym have been restricted but this shouldn’t be a deterrent to stop working out. One can do home workouts, stretches, yoga by doing pranayam to improve lung capacity or meditation to calm the mind. Exercising releases endorphins which help to have a feel good factor.
Support: In these trying times when people feel confined, face challenges and fear, living with an uncertainty of “who is next “it’s important to have moral support from family and friends. Having meals together, enjoying an indoor game of carrom or scrabble, keeping connected with friends, expressing gratitude and having a positive attitude, help to push one through this difficult phase.
In all, one needs to follow the guidelines of keeping safe by wearing facial masks correctly, social distancing, washing or sanitising hands properly, getting vaccinated and eating right.
Author: Komal Lala,
Komal Lala is a nutritionist and a health coach, certified in weight management and clinical nutrition from ACSM, a Diploma in health education DNHE, PG in Clinical Nutrition. She is affiliated to NSI (Nutrition Society of India) and IAPEN (Indian Association of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition).