While the world continues to face seasonal influenza, a new global public health concern has emerged with the Coronavirus pandemic. Viral infections are present all over the world, and many countries are implementing drastic measures to slow down the spread. Supporting the immune system with adequate nutrition is an important way to help reduce the risk and impact of virus infections. One of the hardest aspects of today's lifestyle is to follow a balanced diet and stay healthy. Nutritious food is a key requirement to maintain good health and boost immunity, thus helping prevent diseases.
Many may be unaware of the connection between food and the immune system - the root cause of many lifestyle diseases and viral infections is poor nutrition. Immunity is nothing but the internal strength of our body. So how can one build on that internal strength? It is therefore essential that the Kapha, Pitta, and Vata are in complete harmony. To make digestion and metabolism work appropriately, it is thus important to maintain a healthy diet and regularise the bowel movement.
12 Incredible Immunity Boosting Superfoods And Spices
Here's the list of twelve superfoods and spices that are easily available in our kitchen and act as a great source of nutrition in immunity building.
1. Amla Or Indian Gooseberry
Also known as Indian Gooseberry, are small yet nutritious fruits that offer numerous health benefits. Amlas are on the top list of Vitamin C rich foods and this vitamin is a powerful antioxidant that is vital to the immune system. In addition, it also contains Vitamin B5 which is necessary for creating fatty acids, vitamin B6 for enzyme function, copper which is essential for healthy heart, blood vessels among others. Most importantly, it is rich in fibre and low in calories. Eating raw amla daily is a good option. It can also be added to a salad or to the chutney that can be eaten along with rice/roti/idli and dosa. An amla a day fights the diseases away. However, it should be avoided only if one is suffering from a citrus allergy.
Ginger is one of the healthiest spices and is packed with many nutrients and bioactive compounds. Ginger can be used fresh or in dried and powdered form, or juice. Ginger is one of the commonly used home remedy ingredients for treating indigestion, nausea, etc. It is also believed to relieve menstrual cramps. Gingerol is the main bioactive compound in ginger which is responsible for much of its medicinal properties. It also has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Dosage: Fresh Ginger - 2grams/day. Ginger Juice- 1 teaspoon (should be well diluted). To be avoided after a surgery/ while experiencing bleeding disorders and while taking any anticoagulants like Warfarin.
Garlic has been used for several years to treat a variety of medical conditions. Although a traditional wonder, modern science seems to have recognised its medicinal benefits to health. Just a single garlic clove contains 2% of manganese, Vitamin B6, 1% of Selenium, and Vitamin C. Garlic is highly effective in preventing ailments like flu and the common cold. The active compounds in garlic have also shown to reduce blood Pressure, total, and LDL cholesterol.
Dosage: 2 grams/day. Those intolerant to Garlic and other consuming blood-thinning medications should consult their doctor before incorporating Garlic to their diet.
4. Chinese Star Anise
Oftentimes we don't appreciate what nature has given in abundance. Herbs and spices are one such category and Star Anise may be no exception. Star Anise contains several powerful bioactive compounds like Anithole, Shikimic Acid, etc which has a strong antiviral, antibacterial, antioxidant activity. It is known to relieve cough & cold, improve digestion, prevent menstrual cramps and nausea. Star anise has a distinct flavour and combines well with coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, and clove. It can be either used as a whole spice or in powder form. It is often used as a flavour enhancer in broths, soups, curries, garam masala, biriyani, etc.
Dosage: 1 pinch/day. To be avoided by those who are allergic to it and one must avoid Japanese Star Anise variety which is unsafe for consumption.
Turmeric has been used in India for thousands of years as a spice and as a medicinal herb. And today, science has started to realise its benefits. Turmeric contains compounds namely curcuminoids and the most important of which is Curcumin which is found to have anti-inflammatory effects and is a potent antioxidant. However, the Curcumin content of turmeric is not high enough to get absorbed and hence is needed to be combined with black pepper to enhance its absorption. Turmeric can be added to routine dishes or a pinch of turmeric can be mixed with warm milk along with a pinch of black pepper powder and a teaspoon of honey.
Dosage: 2 grams/day. To be avoided if one is taking any blood-thinning medications
6. Kalonji Seeds
Also known as black seeds, these may be small in size but the health benefits it offers are endless. It not only strengthens our immune system but also wards off several infections that may come our way. Besides, it also helps lower cholesterol, regulate blood sugar, and prevent inflammation. This is mainly due to the presence of several bioactive compounds, and one such is Thymoquinone. The seeds can be added to oatmeal or smoothie or just a pinch of powder will work wonders when added to a glass of water.
Dosage: 2 grams/day. Kalonji seeds may not be the best choice for everyone, especially in its supplement form. Since these seeds contain medicinal properties, they should not be consumed in large quantities and are not to be taken regularly. It is to be avoided by pregnant women and if taking medicines for blood clotting.
Our favourite foods, sambar or rasam, are incomplete without this special ingredient. Asafoetida has also been used for centuries around the world not just to enhance the flavour of the food but for its health benefits. As a spice, it is known for its strong, pungent odour, which is due to the presence of sulfur compounds. In ayurvedic medicine, this is used to aid digestion as well as treat bronchitis. It has anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. Due to its potential effects on digestion, Asafoetida is also believed to reduce symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome and helps lower blood pressure. Mostly the amount of Asafoetida we use in our routine cooking is thought to be safe for most individuals. However one must make sure the dosage doesn't increase more than two pinches a day.
8. Tulsi Leaves
Tulsi, also known as holy basil has been used for centuries to cure the symptoms of various diseases. There are several bioactive compounds like eugenol, camphor, and eucalyptol present in it. It also possesses anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, and antioxidant properties. Tulsi may also relieve symptoms of asthma, bronchitis, colds, congestion, coughs, flu, sinusitis, sore throat, indigestion, vomiting, etc. Regular consumption of tulsi is also believed to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Tulsi tea may help reduce inflammation and relieve the joint pain associated with arthritis. It can also be used as a mouth freshener and promotes oral hygiene. Tulsi leaves can be eaten as it is (not more than 5-6 fresh leaves a day) or in the form of tea. To make tulsi tea, add 1 teaspoon of fresh tulsi juice to 1 cup of boiled water and add a teaspoon of honey. It is to be avoided if one has kidney issues or is taking blood-thinning medications.
9. Sweet Potato
These are rich in anthocyanins and carotenoids. They are also a great source of fibre, vitamins, and minerals. It supports a healthy vision and a strong immune system. Sweet potatoes contain both soluble and insoluble fibre and antioxidants which promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria contributing to a healthy gut.
10. Drumstick Leaves
This wonder malnutrition fighting leaves contain several nutrients and bioactive plant compounds like Myrecytin, Quercetin which helps lower the blood pressure, Kaempferol, Saponin, Protein, Pro-Vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, riboflavin, iron, and the list goes on. This is the only plant food that contains all the essential amino acids required by the body. The leaves can be added to a dosa batter or adai or one can also make drumstick leaves sambar or curry. It is to be avoided if one is suffering from diarrhoea or kidney diseases.
11. Walnuts/FLaxseeds/Fenugreek Seeds
These are rich sources of Omega-3 fatty acids which are an incredibly important source of nutrition. It helps to fight depression, anxiety & inflammation, promotes healthy skin, vision, and is essential for brain development. Its other benefits include reducing LDL, total cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. It also helps in reducing the symptoms of ADHD. A teaspoon of flaxseeds can be added to salad/smoothie/porridge/chapatti/gravy/curry. A fistful of walnuts, around 6- 8 pieces, makes for an excellent choice for a mid-morning or evening snack.
12. Coconut Oil
It contains Lauric acid and Monolaurin which are shown to have a beneficial effect in boosting immunity. Healthy foods will offer health benefits only when taken in moderation. One must make sure that they do not consume more than 1 teaspoon of coconut oil a day. Those with high cholesterol or cardiac issues must avoid consumption of coconut oil.
When it comes to immunity building, focusing on nutrient-rich foods and a well-balanced diet is the best way to obtain desired nutrients. However, this may not always be possible, especially for certain populations or groups of people. In such cases, nutritional supplements offer a reliable and safe option to help support the immune system. Companies such as Royal DSM are at the forefront of enabling these nutritional innovations by supplying nutritional ingredients for the F&B, dietary supplement, early life nutrition, medical nutrition, and nutrition improvement industries.
About the author: Ms. Ramya Ramachandran, M.Sc, PGDHHM, PGDCR, CCN, CDE, RD, is a registered dietitian, lactation counsellor, and diabetes educator from Chennai.
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