Millions of Indians, especially the busy millennials, today complain of chronic lifestyle disorders like hypertension, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, obesity and depression. Most of them struggle to remain active throughout the day in spite of adequate food intake. The question, therefore, is whether the food consumed meets their overall daily nutrient intake? A healthy, balanced diet provides all necessary nutrients that a body needs from all food groups and helps the body function better, and rev up the immune system too. A diet that includes fruits and vegetables play a significant role to support an effective and properly functioning immune system, thus keeping us safe from infections and diseases. Although there is no one particular ingredient in your diet that can boost your immunity, but a healthy balance of carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals along with exercise, sleep, and good hygiene practices can do the trick. However, one must remember that moderation is key.
Plant-based foods and Immune System
Our immune system is our defence against illnesses and infections. Around 70-80% of our immune system is dependent on our gut health. Foods high in fibre such as plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses, seeds and nuts benefit the gut. Hence, it is beneficial to focus on food sources that contain vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and phytochemicals that work together to fight infections.
A plant-based diet helps improve the gut health, absorb nutrients from food that support the immune system and reduce inflammation. The fibre in the food help keep cholesterol levels in control, stabilize blood sugar, is good for bowel management but also reduces risks of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Researchers and health experts are also of the opinion that polyphenols present in fruits and vegetables may help in reversing cognitive decline and slow down progression of mental health diseases such as Alzheimer's. Eating plant-based food not only nourishes the body and the cells, it also helps one maintain healthy weight due to the low glycemic index and high fibre content. It is also important to use healthy cooking methods to get maximum benefit out of the plant-based foods you eat.
Making Healthier Choices
For a balanced plant-based diet, the focus must always be on consuming quality plant foods and evaluate the choices. For instance, white breads are processed and have high glycemic index which causes a spike in blood sugar levels. Similarly, fruit juices are not the same eating a whole fruit since the sugar content in juices are high and squeezes out the essential vitamins and fibre. Hence, it is important to make smart choices and emphasize on reduced consumption of refined grains, and sweetened beverages.
Consumption of plant-based diet, does not provide bulletproof protection against health problems in itself. A healthy and balanced diet when combined with adequate sleep, good hygiene, regular exercise and reduced stress enhances overall health and well-being. A strong immune system aids in faster recovery.
The COVID-19 pandemic, despite its harmful consequences, has given us all a wake-up call to improve our health. The epidemic has not only taught us to avoid jumping the gun with fancy therapies and following fad diets, it has also reiterated the fact that prevention is best strategy to counter any epidemic. Simple precautionary measures - strong immunity, good sleep and healthy, nutritious eating habits, though not glamourous, are the only things that can safeguard us from chronic and lifestyle health disorders.
About Author: Dr. Govardhan Singh is a senior food scientist and researcher.