Updated: Oct 13, 2022
We all want to live a healthy life. Zillions of things around us are not helping to do so. The environment we live in also has disease-producing invaders in the form of microorganisms. As in the current situation, we are experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic and don't have control over the environment. Still, we control our bodies, which work like high-performance vehicles with proper nutrition and lifestyle.
Our immune system works 24/7 round the clock for us. Our body has proper machinery to combat pathogens that comprise physical barriers, biochemical barriers, and specialized immune cells, which secret the antibody when contacting pathogens or toxins. We have seen several examples of How a person with a sound immune system fought this deadly virus even in their '90s. Our immunity is amazingly mighty, but it needs our help to work at its best. Several studies have shown that apart from our body's ability to fight invaders, several lifestyle choices make or break our immune system. Our immune system protects us, and we need to protect our immune system.
What your immune system yearns for:
Sugar, alcohol, and smoking in check
Salt in moderation
Good social connections
Engaging in physical activities
Interacting with people
Nutrition to help bolster the immune system
Adequate nutrition is the key to immune cells' development, maintenance, and optimal functioning. Apart from energy-providing macro-nutrients, certain micro-nutrients are essential to boost immunity.
Carotenoids have immunoregulatory functions that are the precursor of Vitamin A. It also regulates membrane fluidity (mucus, the first line of defense).
Sources - carrots, apricots, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, yams, pumpkin, butternut squash, acorn squash, leafy greens( spinach, collard, kale), broccoli, and bell peppers.
Vitamin D: This "sunshine vitamin" is significant for optimal immune function, particularly in autoimmunity. It helps regulate antimicrobial proteins.
Sources: sunshine, mushrooms
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is responsible for microbial killing and helps in the programmed killing of virus-infected and pre-cancerous cells.
Sources - Indian gooseberry, strawberry, citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruit, lemon, bell pepper, and green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale.
Vitamin B6: Vitamin B6 is essential for healthy immune cell function. It is vital in regulating immune responses associated with various diseases like inflammation and cancers.
Sources - Chickpeas, bananas, potatoes, leafy greens, and broccoli
Selenium: Selenium is an essential mineral for various aspects of human health, including optimal immune response. An adequate amount of selenium ensures a robust immune system, even in an aging individual.
Sources - garlic, whole grains, broccoli, barley
Zinc: Zinc affects the immune system in several ways. This quintessential element is also known as the Gatekeeper of immune function. Zinc acts as a signaling messenger, further activating multiple immune cell functions.
Sources - whole grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts
Iron: Iron is one of the essential elements for the normal functioning of the immune system. It plays a vital role in antimicrobial host responses.
Sources - legumes, broccoli, leafy greens, beetroot.
Copper: The direct role of copper in the immune system's action mechanism is yet to be discovered, but studies show copper deficiency is related to immunity impairment.
Sources - legumes, mushrooms, cocoa, nuts, figs, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds
Magnesium: Magnesium is a significant element and helps immune response in numerous ways. It acts as a co-factor in antibody synthesis. It plays an essential part in the intracellular signaling pathway.
Sources - Almonds, bananas, black beans, broccoli, brown rice, cashews, flaxseed, green vegetables (spinach), nuts, oatmeal, seeds (pumpkin, sesame, sunflowers), soybeans, sweet corn, tofu, and whole grains.
Folate: Folic acid, or Vitamin B9, is vital for developing, maintaining, and regulating gut immune responses.
Sources - Barley, garlic, green leafy vegetables, dark green vegetables, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, beans and legumes, cantaloupe
whole grains, broccoli, barley, garlic
Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 works as an immunomodulator, so it is crucial to ensure adequate nutrition for the proper functioning of the immune system.
Sources- low-fat yogurt, vitamin b12 fortified soy products.
Amid the CORONA virus pandemic, you must have come across many advertisements promoting products having wild health claims, such as supplements, and teas, that increase immunity overnight. Beware of fraudulent products claiming to prevent, mitigate or treat COVID-19. An overdose of supplements can lead to life-threatening harm. The FDA has warned and monitored companies involved in selling fraudulent COVID-19 products.
Recipes for Immune health:
A Simple Lemon–Ginger Tea
A few handy family recipes go from generation to generation that never fails to delight. A simple lemon-ginger tea is one of them. This easy but effective remedy is my immune tonic. From childhood onwards( as I was in a boarding school, always away from home), Whenever I felt sore or itchy in my throat, my two ingredients, “immune tea,” still worked for me. I used to have a thermos in hostels, where I could easily add all the ingredients, let it simmer, and have a few sips of the soothing tea every few hours. It has a soothing effect that makes me feel better. I add the lemon rind to it. It contains more Vitamin C per ounce than the fruit itself. Try not to get the white membrane beneath the skin. You can be creative with the ingredients by adding cinnamon, star anise, and nutmeg to enhance the taste as per your palate. Trust me, just lemon and ginger works well.
Ginger- ½ inch
Lemon juice - 1tbsp
Lemon rind – scrape a little
Cinnamon stick- optional
1. Boil 1 cup of water.
2. Add all the ingredients except honey (if using).
3. steep for 5 mins
4. Strain it
4. add honey (if using)
Lemon – Coriander Soup
Be it chilly weather or you have a sniffle, cold or achy throat. Nothing can be more comforting than a piping hot vegetable soup with spices and herbs. This recipe contains immunity-boosting vitamins and minerals to keep you going strong. There is no one way to prepare it. Add your favorite colorful veggies or herb according to your palate or keep it relatively simple and stick with the basics. I sometimes add celery or cabbage for a change of taste. You can change quantity too to suit your taste. My husband likes more corn in his soup. I add cornstarch to thicken the soup. You can omit it without minimizing its benefits.
Green coriander leaves/cilantro leaves- ½ cup
Corn - ¼ cup
Carrot – 1 small (grated or cut into matchstick-size)
Ginger- 1/2 inch (grated)
Corn starch - 2 Tsp (optional)
Lemon - 2 Tbsp.
Turmeric powder- ½ tsp
Black Pepper – 2 (freshly crushed)
Clove –1freshlyy ground
Salt- 1 tsp
1. Take 2 1/2 cups of water in a pot and let it boil.
2. Add carrots and corn to it.
3. Add Ginger, turmeric powder, Black Pepper, and clove.
4. add salt to it
5. Let it boil for 5 mins.
6 . Mix cornstarch with 2 Tbsp. of water and make a slurry.
7. Add cornstarch slurry to it.
8. Add lemon juice.
9. Add cilantro leaves. Stir it and switch off the stove.
Tip- Corn starch gives it a soup-like consistency; you can omit it without minimizing its benefits.
Black Chickpea Curry with Squash and Spinach
I have vivid memories of my village farms, whereas as a kid, we(my siblings and cousins) used to get up early to roam around our farm and pluck green, tender chickpea pods time a few branches of chickpea greens. What can be more fun than popping out and enjoying sweet, crunchy, delicious chickpeas with giggles and funny school stories with your near dears? My grandma saved chickpea greens for her signature chane ka saag recipe ( a sour-tasting chickpea greens recipe). Although chickpea leaves are used as quickly as possible after harvesting as it dries pretty fast, it is full of essential vitamins and minerals.
When discussing health and immunity, “fresh and seasonal” is the key. Make a hearty soup or a flavorful curry; using varieties of colorful fresh veggies enhances its flavors and nourishes you with immunity-boosting nutrients. Chickpea has a wide array of nutritional benefits. Being rich in fiber, good quality plant proteins, and essential Vitamins like Vitamin B1, B2, B3, folate, and Vitamin A precursor β-carotene, it has several potential health benefits. Calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and selenium support good immunity. You can relish it in various ways, from salads to stew, curries, and hummus. Adding squash and greens enhances its nutrient density. In this recipe, I am using a black variety of chickpeas. You can substitute this recipe with garbanzo beans. I am using butternut squash here, but you can replace it with squashes or sweet potatoes. You can substitute spinach with kale or use both of them together.
Black chickpea- 1 cup
Squash -1 cup chopped
Spinach – 2 cups
Onion 1 large
Tomatoes -2 medium (deseeded and chopped)
Roasted gram flour- 1tbsp
Cumin seeds- 1tsp
Turmeric powder- 1tsp
Ginger garlic paste – 1 tbsp.
Coriander powder- 1 tbsp.
Garam masala powder- 1tsp
Red chili powder- 1tsp (optional)
Asafetida – 1/4tsp
Oil – 1 tbsp. (optional)
1. Soak the chickpea for 8 hours.
2. Boil the chickpea until soft with a bit of salt. Save the broth
3. Dry roast cumin seeds in a pot.
4. Add 2 tbsp of broth. Sauté onions in broth for 3-4 mins. Or if you are using oil, heat oil, add cumin seeds, and let it crackle.
5. Add asafetida.
6. Add ginger-garlic paste. Sauté for 2 mins
7. Add chopped tomatoes. Sauté it for 5 mins or till it gets mushy.
8. Add salt, turmeric powder, and coriander powder.
9. Add roasted gram flour
10. Add diced pumpkin. Sauté it for a while and cover it.
11. Add Cooked Chickpeas and greens.
12. Add garam masala /allspice powder.
13. Cover the lid. Let it simmer for 5 mins
14. Add lemon juice. Garnish it with cilantro.
15. Serve it hot with white or brown rice.
Carrot - Banana Smoothie with Indian Gooseberry
You can make the smoothie in the end number of ways. Keeping immunity in mind, you can use ingredients rich in immunity-boosting vitamins and minerals. I am adding a superfood to the ingredient list, which is Indian gooseberry (amla). This little tart berry is one of the richest vitamin C sources, Vitamin E, phytonutrients, and antioxidants. Ayurveda scriptures advise having Indian gooseberry every day to enjoy optimum immune health. It is advisable to consume it raw as cooking can drastically reduce its nutrients. I enjoy eating it plain with a dash of rock salt. Adding raw gooseberry to smoothies makes consuming and reaping the benefits more accessible. It’s rare to find fresh gooseberry in the US. I use frozen or dried gooseberry powder (amla powder)instead. Adding nuts and seeds like walnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and flax seeds enhances its nutrient density. This smoothie is customizable. You can add or omit ingredients according to availability. I add dates to balance the tart taste of gooseberry.
Banana- 1 ripe
Carrot – 1
Walnuts – 1 tbsp.
Cashew - 3-4
Flaxseed powder – 1 Tbsp.
Chia seeds – ½ Tbsp.
Indian gooseberry- 1 seeded(if using fresh or frozen) or ½ tbsp. ( if using powdered)
Pumpkin seeds (Pepitas) – ½ tbsp.
Dates – 3-4 deseeded
Water – 1 cup
1. Gather all the ingredients.
2. Blend until smooth.
3. Serve immediately.