“The first wealth is health,” American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his collection of essays ‘The Conduct of Life’ way back in 1860. However, nothing in the history of humanity, probably, made us realise the importance of this proverb more than the Coronavirus that hit us in 2019. As of today, every person is concerned about how to keep themselves, and their loved ones, safe from this deadly disease. The foremost question on everyone’s mind is, “How do we strengthen our immunity?” as that is the only way known yet to keep away COVID-19. Awaz, The Voice, spoke to renowned Delhi-based dietician, Ritu Chawla, to understand how food can help us fight this battle and win. Here are her dietary recommendations for various age groups and men and women:
What are the food items you would label essential in these Corona times?
There is nothing more critical than Vitamin C in keeping one’s immune system healthy. As is well-known, citrus fruits like Orange, Lime and Lemon are rich sources of Vitamin C. Besides, fruits like Guava, Kiwi and berries (most importantly Aamla or the Indian Gooseberry), which are easily available in winters, must be consumed frequently. Vitamin D, which is also known as the ‘sunshine vitamin,’ reduces chances of microbial infection in the body and, therefore, must be adequately present in the body. For this, one should be out in the sun during mornings or early afternoon since it is absorbed through the skin. Alternatively, one can consume Vit.D-rich foods like cheese, butter, fish and egg yolk, and D-fortified milk and cereals. Omega 3 and Omega 6 Fatty Acids also play a big supporting role for the immune system, so one can either have fish to maintain its levels in the body or take fish oil capsules, flaxseeds and chia seeds. Last but not the least, Zinc deficiency can ruin your immune system, so consume nuts, beans, seafood and poultry in adequate quantity to keep Zinc levels in your body optimal. Herbs like Turmeric, Ginger, Cinnamon and Black Pepper are important for their antiseptic properties and healing internal injuries and external wounds.
Any specific dietary advice you would like to give to the elderly?
The elderly are the most at risk of catching COVID as their immune system is often compromised and most have co-morbidities like lung infections or kidney problems. They must ensure that these existing health issues do not get exacerbated. For this, senior citizens must completely avoid processed and packaged food as they are high in salt, sugar, Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) and trans-fats. These can wreak havoc on your blood pressure and sugar levels. They must also take five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables in a day, in as many different colours as possible. These are rich in beta-carotenes that transform into Vitamin A in the body and help maintain body organs. It is often said that the immune system functions from the gut; therefore, the gut must be kept clean and healthy with the help of probiotics. For that, besides yoghurt, you can also take fermented foods like Kimchi salads, Dhokla and Idli. Minimum eight hours of sleep is unavoidable.
Anything that pregnant women should keep in mind vis a vis COVID?
If a woman is pregnant, she should try and avoid other underlying problems by taking a high-protein and iron-rich diet. A good haemoglobin level will help to prevent infections. For that, one should take pomegranate juice, red colour-vegetables, green-leafy vegetables, peas, all pulses (daals), Rajma (kidney beans), mutton, prunes and olives. Vitamin C helps in the absorption of iron, so say whenever you are having saag (spinach), squeeze in half-a-lemon. Egg yolks also help build iron. Proteins are the building-blocks of life, so it goes without saying that a pregnant woman needs them in good quantity. She should take milk and milk-products besides soyabean, legumes, broccoli, mushroom and meats. She should drink lots of water as 70% of our body composition is water.
Anxiety and depression have emerged as harmful by-products of the COVID lockdown. Does that affect the immune system too?
Of course, stress reduces your immune response and leaves you exposed to all sorts of infections. One of the first signs of depression is insomnia (lack of sleep) and reduced interest in life and all the activities which the person earlier deemed pleasurable. These include exercising and socialising. This is when a person must seek counselling from either close family members or a psychologist. The mind-over-body connection is very strong; so a person must practice Yoga and meditation. In times like these (COVID), I would say people must take each day as it comes, live in the present and stay positive and hopeful.