With rains come flu, fevers and unending infections - bacterial, viral and fungal. These can further aggravate allergies, skin, respiratory and digestive problems. While we can't do much about the rains, we can certainly beat the bugs by strengthening our immune system.
A diet consisting largely of junk food, or refined sugar, white rice, refined fats low in vitamins and minerals can weaken the immune system. A healthy immune system requires a number of nutrients in balance, including proteins, essential fats, vitamins, and minerals.
A diet should consist of a variety of foods, adequate calories. It should be rich in whole grains, pulses, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, low fat dairy and fatty fish. Also a diet low in sugar, alcohol and bad fats, along with a healthy lifestyle is the key to good immune function.
Proteins play an important role in strengthening the immune system which is responsible for fighting infections by foreign substances. When the diet does not contain enough proteins, the body cannot make as many antibodies as it needs.
Besides proteins, the nutrients which build immunity include beta carotene, B complex vitamins, Vitamin C, E and minerals, including selenium, zinc, folic acid, iron, copper, and magnesium, prebiotic and probiotic foods.
Vitamin A and beta carotene help maintain thymus gland function .This gland produces lymphocytes - white blood cells (WBCs) which produce defence proteins called antibodies. It also helps maintain the health of surface-lining membranes of skin and internal organs, the first line of defence against bacterial, parasitic and viral attack. However, excessive vitamin A intake lowers immunity. Good sources include dark greens, yellow orange vegetables such as carrots, spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes, apricots and mango, butter, egg yolk, cheese, fish liver oils.
Vitamin C deficiency can lower the immune response. Vitamin C enables the lymphocytes and other cells of the immune system to function properly. The need for vitamin C increases more during an illness. Because chemical detoxifying system in cells use vitamin C, drug and toxin exposure also increases the need for vitamin C, drugs (medicines) also increase the need for vitamin C by almost double. Also, it acts as an antioxidant and protects against reactive harmful chemicals (free radicals) produced by the body. Good sources of vitamin C include amla, citrus fruits, tomatoes, green peppers, green leafy vegetables, kiwi, broccoli, and strawberries.
Vitamin E also boosts immune functions through lymphocyte activity (WBCs). Increased exposure to toxins or old age further increases the need for this vitamin. It is best taken through natural sources like wheat germ, whole grains, nuts, seeds, apples and green leafy vegetables.
Zinc is vital for immunity. Even mild deficiency can lower immunity. Zinc deficient people are prone to depressed immunity, common cold and poor growth. Zinc in combination with other trace minerals, including copper, iron, and manganese appears to improve the immune response. Good sources of zinc include nuts, seeds and whole grains.
Selenium, an important mineral and an antioxidant, also plays an important role in boosting the immune function and fighting infections. It is also known to interact with vitamin E in antioxidant systems and with iodine in thyroid hormone metabolism. Good sources of selenium include brown rice, wheat germ, whole wheat bread, poultry, and fish, garlic, organ meats and seafood.
Essential fats like omega 3 fats that can be obtained from cold pressed oils, nuts, seeds, fatty fish and sea food also play an important role in maintaining good immune status.
Other important nutrients that help improve the immune response include vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, iron, folic acid, magnesium and copper.
Other immune boosting foods include probiotics and prebiotics.
Probiotics, the good friendly bacteria when administered in adequate amounts, promote the body's natural immunity, help in digestion and maintaining good health. These are essential and help keep the harmful bacteria suppressed. Good sources of probiotics include yogurt, buttermilk (chaach), lassi and kefir (thin drinkable yogurt). In commercially available varieties the cultures may not be live, however, special probiotic drinks and foods are commercially being formulated with live cultures.
A prebiotic is actually a substance found in other foods that feeds the probiotics (beneficial micro-organisms present in the gut) and in a way it's the probiotic's lunch. Good sources include whole grains, pulses, beans, vegetables, fruits and seeds.
The simplest way to boost immunity is through a good diet, plenty of exercise, yoga, adequate rest, sleep and stress control.
— The writer is one of the leading holistic health gurus and has a health portal www.mickeymehtahbf.com
Foods that boost immunity
Whole grains: Oats, barley, millets.
Pulses and legumes: Bengal gram, lentils, beans and soybeans.
Bright coloured vegetables and fruits: Broccoli, garlic, ginger, onion, red grapes, amla.
Nuts and seeds: walnuts, flax seeds, fenugreek seeds, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, sunflower seeds.
Other foods: Yogurt, wheat germ, alfa-alfa, fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, hilsa, purva), olives and olive oil, mustard oil, etc.
Eat organic foods whenever possible.
Special dietary guidelines for rains
Avoid street food, especially during the rains as the incidence of food-borne illnesses shoots up in this weather due to favourable temperature for increased microbial growth (especially bacteria). Also, street food is exposed to dust and flies, which could also contribute to food-borne illnesses.
Left-over food: Precooked food should always be refrigerated and preferably consumed within the same day.
Beverages: Abundant fluids are beneficial.
Diet during flu in rains
Water: With rains, water-borne infections like typhoid, cholera, hepatitis and diarrhoea are also on the rise. Unfortunately, most tap and well water is not safe for drinking. A good water filtration system at home is the only way to monitor and ensure the quality and safety of drinking water. Water from community water system can be treated / purified at home level by either boiling, chemical treatment, filtration or reverse osmosis.
Boiling water will kill most types of disease-causing organisms that may be present.
If you can't boil water, chlorine and iodine are the two chemicals commonly used to treat water. Both disinfectants work much better in warm water.