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How to keep your immune system healthy during Covid-19

Dr. Kiran Bains

In the current situation of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is important to understand how our body defends itself from viruses and other invaders. Our best defence is our body’s immune system. It has the ability to produce a million antibodies within the shortest possible time to recognize and destroy billion of invaders which include viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. A healthy lifestyle – with a balance of exercise, diet and sleep is the best way to take care of our immune system.

  1. Regular exercise keeps our blood circulation healthy and helps the immune system cells to move across the body effectively. Sleep and rest are extremely important for antibody generation. Maintain a regular sleep cycle (8 hours on average) is important to keep our immune system regulated. Stress, depression or grief affect our immunity adversely. Learning how to cope with stress, manage psychological issues and relaxing are keys to boosting the immune system. So, meditation, yoga and regular physical activity hold significance in body’s ability to handle infections.
  2. Water acts as a solvent for minerals and other nutrients making them available to cells. It removes toxins and maintains an electrolyte balance for all bodily functions in health and disease prevention. Hot water in the form of tea, milk, soup with a combination of ginger/turmeric/black pepper/cardamom/ cinnamon/mint/tulsi/cloves is a good practice to control infections.
  3. Consumption of alcohol impairs circulation and reduces immunity. It is advisable to restrict alcohol during infection.
  4. The role of diet during virus endemic is preventive in terms of strengthening an individual’s immune system for the effective fight with infection and early recovery later.
  5. There is no single super nutrient or superfood that can boost our immune system as no nutrient works in isolation. A combination of foods with proven immunity-boosting effect must be present in daily diet in appropriate amounts. Overconsumption of these key foods is not beneficial.
  6. The ideal immune-boosting diet is a regular balanced diet. So, the foremost priority should be to strengthen the immune system, therefore, foods rich in protein, PUFA (omega 3), vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin D, zinc, micro minerals namely selenium, magnesium and combination of prebiotics and probiotics and antioxidants should be included in the daily diet.
  7. Adequate energy, protein, and essential fatty acids also play a role in immunity. Hence a qualitatively and quantitatively balanced diet should be consumed.
  8. Punjabi diet has several foods that boost immunity, so there is no need to try novel, expensive foreign foods as they are expensive and not easily available. Local fruits and vegetables are rich in immunity-boosting nutrients and are relatively cheaper.
  9. Ensure that our daily diet has all the food groups i.e. cereals, pulses, vegetables, fruits, milk, oils and fats in appropriate proportion. Refer the table given below for planning a balanced diet.

Balanced diet for an adult person doing sedentary activity

Food groups Man Woman
Cereals and millets, g 375 270
Pulses, g 75 60
Milk, ml 300 300
Roots and tubers, g 200 200
Green leafy vegetables, g 100 100
Other vegetables, g 200 200
Fruits, g 100 100
Sugars, g 20 20
Fats and oils, g 25 20

Specific foods for strengthening immune system

  1. For Zinc and other micro minerals, adequate intake of cereals, pulses and vegetables is required. Cereals and pulses also provide Vitamin E and essential fatty acids.
  2. Citrus fruits like kinnow and lemon; guava; papaya and green leafy vegetables like spinach, amaranth, fenugreek are rich in vitamin C. Pumpkin, papaya are good sources of beta carotene which is a precursor of vitamin A. Tomato contains lycopene which is a powerful antioxidant.
  • Milk and paneer are high in quality protein and vitamin A. Curd and lassi are probiotic foods.
  1. For non-vegetarians, the animal foods i.e. eggs/chicken/meat/fish provide good quality protein, vitamin D, zinc and other essential minerals.
  2. Vegetable oils like mustard, sunflower, ricebran and soybeen oils have PUFA which play crucial role in immunity.
  3. Our local spices are rich source of antioxidants, vitamin E and essential fatty acids. Turmeric is most effective and other spices like cloves, saunf, cumin seeds, black pepper, mustard seeds, cinnamon have beneficial effects.
  • Ginger, garlic, Onion, apples, banana flexseeds, whole cereals are some important foods which strengthen the immune system.
  • Fruit juices especially beetroot, carrot, grape fruit are rich in antioxidants and essential nutrients.
  1. In addition to appropriate nutrition, cooking time and temperature as well as food hygiene are equally important. The regular cooking time and temperature kill the viruses. Washing of vegetables under running water for sufficient time is a desirable practice to remove dirt, bacteria etc. Never ever wash the vegetables with soap or detergents to kill viruses. It will affect our health adversely. Keep in mind that Covid-19 virus is not a food borne disease. It is contagious through contact. Cooked foods are safer than the raw foods. Before consuming fruits, the skin of fruits must be removed. The vegetables must be peeled off before using them for salads.

It is advisable to underline that no single food can boost immunity, so take a balanced diet. Moreover, water, sleep, exercise and rest are crucial to care our immune system.

(The author is the Professor and Head of  Department of Food and Nutrition, PAU, Ludhiana. Views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at email: kiranbains@pau.edu  Mobile No. 7837700617)


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