Why an Ayurvedic Diet is the Simplest Way to Boost ImmunityDr. Surya Bhagwati
With much of the world shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s growing recognition of the importance of preventive health care. A cornerstone of preventive care, of course, is the strengthening of immunity. Ayurveda has long advocated for preventive care measures, stressing the importance of healthy eating and lifestyle practices that can lower the risk of disease. While Ayurvedic literature does not prescribe rigid and restrictive diets, it gives us a wealth of information and broad guidelines for eating. Although most Ayurvedic diet recommendations come from texts that are up to 2,000 years old, much of this information is now validated by modern science. We’ll take a look at what an immune boosting foods would look like, based on Ayurvedic wisdom and modern nutritional studies.
What is an Ayurvedic Diet?
Any Ayurvedic diet will help to boost immunity as the main focus of Ayurveda is to restore balance and harmony. If you try to look at the bigger picture, Ayurvedic diet advice can seem complex, but there are some simple fundamental truths. If you focus on these common sense ideas, you really can’t go wrong. One of the most important of these is the advice to follow a more natural diet, with plenty of whole foods, while restricting processed foods. This alone, has huge repercussions for immune function, but we shall get to that later.
Another striking feature of the Ayurvedic diet is that it is personalized. Unlike western medicine, Ayurveda has always recognized the uniqueness of the individual. There is a natural energy, called dosha that permeates all of us and every object or lifeforce in nature. There are 3 doshas, and the balance of these doshas is unqie to every individual, giving us specific traits, both physical and mental. When this balance of energy is upset, it gives rise to illnesses. Your diet is most important for maintaining this balance as every food also has its own dosha energy and interaction. This is why an Ayurvedic diet is typically personalized to suit your balance of doshas.
While, the best immune booster food to support your health and immunity would be based on your dosha type, there are some Ayurvedic food recommendations that can help support immune function, no matter your dosha type. We shall focus on these recommendations, but it is advisable that you also consult an Ayurvedic practitioner to identify your dosha type and get personalized diet recommendations.
Ayurvedic Diet Advice to Boost Immunity
Let’s go back to that all important recommendation to eat natural or whole foods, rather than processed foods. This is the overarching theme in every Ayurvedic diet for good reason. In such a diet, the focus should be on plant-based foods, including a wide range of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices. Preparation methods can vary depending on your dosha type, but these foods should be consumed in any Ayurvedic diet to strengthen immunity. This recommendation to favor whole foods is strongly supported by research, which now shows that diets that are high in processed foods lead to weakened immune function. In addition, many of these plant-based foods have been found to exhibit immunomodulatory, antiviral, and antimicrobial effects that can help increase your protection against common infections.
Aside from focusing on whole foods, another noteworthy feature of any Ayurvedic diet is the wide variety of food. The importance of a varied food palette is now an accepted fact in food science and nutrition. Ayurvedic physicians recognized the importance of including a variety of natural foods in your diet because this is the easiest way to ensure balanced nutrition with a blend of nutrients. When it comes to immune function, it’s not just vitamin C that plays an important role (although it is extremely important). Vitamins A, E, B6, and B12, zinc, iron, folate, magnesium, copper, and selenium are also vital for the health of your immune system. Numerous studies have shown that deficiencies of even one micronutrient can adversely impact immune function.
So, what do these recommendations mean in terms of practical everyday food choices? To begin with, you should start eating more citric fruits like oranges, grapes, and cruciferous vegetables to boost your vitamin C intake. Research shows that a deficiency in this vitamin can significantly increase the risk of infection. Aside from citric fruits and cruciferous vegetables, foods like carrots, spinach, bell peppers, and most fruits will give you a good amount of vitamin A, fiber, and other nutrients. These nutrients are not only needed for healthy immune system, but can also lower the risk of chronic inflammation and lifestyle diseases that can compromise immunity.
Protein is another important nutrient when it comes to immune function and it’s one that we often overlook. Vegetarians can increase their protein intake with foods like lentils, chickpeas, green peas, and nuts. If you cannot get enough protein from your diet, you should also consider a nutritional supplement, but speak to a dietitian or doctor for the appropriate dosage.
Ayurvedic Flavoring and Healing Ingredients
This is where herbs and spices come into play. Ayurveda is the world’s richest source of natural medicine, with treatments formulated from medicinal herbs and spices. Many of these ingredients can also be added to your diet and play an important role in supporting immune function. Once again, herbs and spices are known to influence the balance of doshas and can be used to restore balance, but they can also be used as broad therapeutic ingredients. For example, common culinary spices like clove, cinnamon, turmeric, cardamom, and pepper are known to contain antiviral and antimicrobial compounds. Similarly, herbs like mint, tulsi, coriander, ginger, amla, and garlic are renowned for their anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, and antimicrobial properties. Many of these herbs and spices are even used in Ayurvedic medicines to boost immunity and other bodily functions.
In addition to foods, herbs, and spices that can be added to your diet, Ayurveda also highlights the importance of eating habits and lifestyle modifications that can support general health and immunity. If you need an added immune boost, there are also plenty of medicinal Ayurvedic herbs that you can turn to.
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