16 foods to prevent and protect

A healthy diet provides the right mix of nutrients, that are required to boost and maintain our immune system.


Our body is exposed to pollution, smoke, junk food and stress that constantly target our system to release toxins everyday. These toxins not only reduce immunity but also make our body prone to major lifestyle disorders. In the current scenario, the two major loopholes in our lifestyle include lack of nutritionally balanced meals and adequate rest. And to make things worse, the biggest tragedy is that we belong to a world that blindly relies on antibiotics and other harmful medicines to fight infection. But the good news is that foods too have the power to boost one’s immunity.

A wholesome meal providing essential nutrients like vitamin A, C, E and minerals like selenium and zinc, can help our body fight infection, naturally. While an adequately healthy diet is extremely crucial, there are some super foods that can actually help you kick up your immune system.

  1. Garlic – Allicin is the sulphur compound responsible for the strong odour in garlic. It also has powerful anti-bacterial and anti-viral agents [cold-fighting abilities], that work well when combined with vitamin C. Research indicates that allicin has a strong antibiotic potential to fight against cold, flu, viruses and yeast, in fact it can also have a strong effect on certain bacteria that could be resistant to drugs. As few as two or more servings of garlic a week can protect against colon cancer.
  2. Orange contain limonoids [phytochemicals] that have a wide variety of therapeutic effects such as anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-cancer and anti-malarial. High dose of vitamin C from oranges increases the WBCs [white blood cells] in the blood which fight off infection. Eating oranges would be better option than drinking the juice; juices tend to be low in fibre and high in sugar.
  3. Oats are loaded with soluble fibres called beta-glucan. These enhance the body’s immune system by activating body cells that fight against invaders in the body like bacteria, fungi and cancer cells.
  4. Spinach – Besides being Popeye’s favourite food, it’s also a great source of beta-carotene, vitamin C, folic acid, magnesium, iron and a powerful anti-inflammatory compound called quercetin. Spinach is rich in flavonoids that work by increasing the infection-fighting cells.
  5. Guava has a high concentration of lycopene [aids in repairing damaged body cells] and vitamin C. Another fruit rich in vitamin C includes Amla. I highly recommend both guava and amla as they both are not just rich in anti-oxidants but also cheaply available throughout the year.
  6. Ghee [clarified butter] has a long history as medicinal and healing food in ayurveda. It is believed to be at the root of our wellbeing and immunity, protecting the body against diseases.
  7. Strawberries are a concentrated source of phenol phyto-nutrients [anthocyanins and ellagitannins]. They have a protective effect on body cells.
  8. Yogurt – Our gut is home to a number of bad and good bacteria. We cannot get rid of all the bad bacteria but we can definitely balance them with good ones with the help of yogurt. Yogurt is a wonderful source of probiotics [good bacteria], that help to create a healthy gut environment. Probiotics helps to control inflammation and increases the natural killer cells and antibodies that fight infection and improve digestion.
  9. Wheat grass juice is high in chlorophyll. These grasses contain enzymes which have anti-oxidant properties. They are believed to clean the lymph system and remove toxic metals from the body cells.
  10. Whey protein powder – Besides being a good dose of protein, it has a stimulating effect on the immune system. Whey protein provides glutathione that acts as a master anti-oxidant which kicks up WBCs and the liver to detoxify poisons in the body.
  11. Cranberry juice is a rich source of phyto-nutrients such as anthocyanins, catechins, lutenin and quercetin. Cranberries have the strongest anti-oxidant properties [due to the vitamin C content]. It also works well to relieve urinary tract infection.
  12. Fatty fish – Flaxseeds, fatty fishes like salmon, mackerel and tuna are good sources of omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fats increase the activity of body cells that eat up bacteria. It helps to speed up the healing process and strengthen the body’s resistance to infections
  13. Almonds are a power-house filled with vitamin E, fibres and anti-oxidants. A daily intake of almonds can also help to prevent cancer.
  14. Honey is rich in phyto-nutrients. Honey is basically a resin with anti-microbial and anti-viral properties. Honey also works well as a cough suppressant. One of the unique foods that acts as a wound-healing agent. A spoonful of honey raises blood levels of anti-oxidants.
  15. Soybean contains lecithin, which has the ability to increase gamma globulin content in the blood [associated with body’s defence mechanism], increasing immunity.
  16. Mushrooms have good immune boosting power, however the medicinal properties of mushrooms are seen only in particular varieties like maitake, shiitake and reishi. These species have an active compound called lentinan that has a natural ability to kill bacteria and prevent virus multiplication in the body. Selenium content in mushrooms also works well to reduce the risk of cancer.

These are 16 super heroes that can help your body to fight infection. But look out for fried foods, high sugar, too much caffeine [coffee, tea, and chocolate], smoking and alcohol; these foods can adversely affect your health making your body more susceptible to infections.

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Payal Ahuja
Payal Ahuja is a Mumbai-based dietician and consultant. She conducts workshops on lifestyle management and weight management programmes on TV. Ahuja is also IPC-certified auditor for ISO-9001:2000, and author of the book, Combating Childhood Obesity.


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