After the long hot and humid summer the monsoon showers come as a respite to the heat. But along with it comes damp gloomy weather, flooding, seepage of sewage into drinking water pipes and proliferation of flies that result in contamination of food and water leading to food poisoning and other health hazards like respiratory and gastrointestinal infections.
Merely getting wet in the rain does not result in one catching a cold, it is the cold virus and lowered immunity that are to blame. While there is nothing we can do about the rain, we can certainly keep infections at bay by strengthening our immune system. The simplest way is by eating a balanced diet, being physically active, getting adequate sleep and managing stress.
Diets that consist mainly of refined cereals, sugars, trans fats and inadequate amount of vegetables and fruits weaken the immune system while diets that include whole grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, milk, fish, fruits and vegetables and are low in sugar, trans fats and alcohol are key to a good immune system.
So here are some tips for building immunity this monsoon.
Eat adequate amount of protein: Proteins provide amino acids which are critical for the formation of antibodies and other immune factors. Deficiencies of protein significantly increase susceptibility to infection by adversely affecting both innate and adaptive immunities. Before and during the monsoons ensure that you include a serving of protein at each meal. Good choices include pulses, dals, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, milk and milk products, eggs, lean meats and chicken.
Stock up on other immune building nutrients. See that your diet includes the following nutrients:
Vitamin C helps boost immunity, is a powerful antioxidant and enhances the absorption of iron. Vitamin C is best obtained from fresh and raw foods such as fruits and salads. Vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables are amla, guava, cashew fruit, green leafy vegetables, yellow orange fruits and vegetables; citrus fruits like orange, sweet lime, torange, lime, grapefruit, kiwi fruit, strawberries; tomatoes, green chillies and capsicum and broccoli.
Beta carotene and vitamin A help maintain the health of skin and membranes lining the internal organs which are the first line of defence against bacterial, parasitic and viral attacks. Vitamin A is found naturally only in foods of animal origin like milk and milk products, butter, ghee, egg yolk, liver and fish liver oils. Dark green leafy vegetables, yellow orange coloured fruits and vegetables like papaya, mango, muskmelon (chibud), apricot, red sweet potato (konong), red pumpkin (bhopla or kaddu) and carrot are rich sources of beta-carotene, a carotenoid that gets converted into vitamin A within the body.
Zinc and selenium are minerals that have now been recognised as immune boosters. Good sources of zinc include whole grains, soya products, legumes, nuts, pumpkin seeds, wheat germ, fish, sea food and eggs. Foods rich in selenium include sea foods, meats, whole grains, wheat germ, Brazil nuts and eggs.
Omega -3 fatty acids have a role in strengthening the immune system as they have anti-inflammatory effects in the body. Fatty fish such as mackerel, sardines, tuna and herring are rich in biological active forms of omega-3 fatty acids while vegetarian sources of omega- 3 fatty acids include soya bean oil and mustard oil and foods like wheat, bajra, urad, bengal gram (chana), cowpea (chawli or lobia), rajma, soya bean, walnuts, mustard seeds, flaxseeds (alsi or sonbiya) and chia seeds. During monsoons try and obtain omega-3 fatty acids from vegetarian foods rather than from fish.
Prebiotics act as food for probiotics and both work together synergistically to maintain the health of the digestive system enabling better absorption of nutrients and improving immunity. Curd, yoghurt, kefir, koumiss, some soft cheeses, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kombucha, kimchi, sour mustard-based pickles, indigenous foods such as fermented rice gruel, fermented ragi porridge and gajar ki kanji are rich in probiotics while prebiotics are found in whole grain cereals, pulses, onion, leek, garlic, tomato, asparagus, banana, apple and chicory.
Use spices: Indian kitchens are a store house of a number of spices that not only add taste to the food but also have medicinal properties. On cold rainy days have ginger and lemon grass tea. It helps warm the body and also provides relief if one has a cold and cough. A teaspoon of honey with a few drops of ginger and lemon juice is a good home remedy for a sore throat and cough that is so common during the monsoons.
Last but not the least, the consumption of contaminated food is one of the greatest health risks leading to disease and ill health during the monsoons resulting in lowered immunity so maintain good food hygiene.
(Writer is a consultant nutritionist with 19 years of experience, practicing at Panaji and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)