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Functional foods provide shield against illnesses

By Sidra Raza:

Consumption of immune boosting foods—also known as super foods/functional foods – is extremely necessary for a strong immune system as well as for protection against seasonal illnesses like flu and other health problems such as arthritis, allergies, cancer, abnormal cell growth, multiple infections, etc.

Functional foods should be consumed naturally from the diet and not from multivitamin pills and they should be incorporated in the daily normal diet.

Following are numerous components which are labeled as immune boosting.

Proteins: Proteins play a vital role in bodily immune system. The problem is people only stick to poultry intake and do not prefer to consume a large variety of proteins that the nature has provided. It is important to consume protein both from plant and animal sources. For example, sea food, lean meat, variety of lentils and beans are an excellent source of folate, potassium and proteins.

Vitamin A: It also helps in regulating immune system. Best sources can be obtained from all deep coloured foods like sweet potato, potato, melon, papaya or deep orange vegetables like carrots, deep red food (bell peppers and tomatoes) or deep green foods like spinach and broccoli. Egg and milk are also good sources. All have high amount of fiber which regulates blood glucose levels, increases the intestinal transit time hence relieves the constipation and contains prebiotics that provide energy to bacteria in the small intestine.

Vitamin C: This vitamin also helps in protecting from infection, aid in formation of antibodies hence boosting the immunity. The entire citrus foods category like orange, grape fruit, strawberries and lemons is an excellent source to get this vitamin. All the berries have anthocyanin pigment which does not only give them beautiful colour but also provide with many health benefits.

Vitamin E: Another vitamin which has a role as antioxidant that actually neutralises free radicals and improves the immune system. Sunflower seeds, almonds or peanut butter provide plenty of this vitamin.  Olive oil is yet another good source of this vitamin.

Zinc is a micronutrient which helps in wound healing and boosts the immune system. The best sources in the diet are beans, seeds, nuts and meat. This is a common observation especially in the teenager group that they do not prefer red meat or in many homes red meat is not cooked due to any old age person who is suffering from chronic medical condition in which they are not allowed to consume red meat regularly. Hence even the children end up being deprived of red meat and when they become adults, they have not acquired its taste.

Green tea and black tea contain catechin’s anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties and can be consumed up to two cups per day.

Oats are often unconsumed and are a good source of fiber and provide lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke. The best way to in cooperate oats is either to use them as a cereal with milk or adding oats flour into regular whole wheat flour. The chapatti will be the best way that it gets consumed by all family members.

Flax Seeds are the richest source of lignans that helps to remove cholesterol from the diet. They also protect from breast cancer. It has an important role in slowing down the tumor activity as well. The way you can add this into your diet is by making the powder of flex seeds and adding it in your favorite drinks, flour, cereals, yogurt or pancake mixture.

Chia seeds are an excellent source of omega 3 fats, proteins, fiber, iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc. It is cardio protective and helps to lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels. It has a good number of antioxidants which protect healthy cells from free radicals hence slowing down the inflammation and aging process.

Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are found abundantly in fatty fish like salmon and tuna. They are involved in inflammatory protection, healing, prevention of heart disease, help in lowering triglycerides, VLDL and help in increasing HDL. Sunflower and safflower oil are also good sources.

The take home message is to enjoy a variety of foods, plan your meals ahead of time so that foods can be distributed throughout the week. Have mindful eating rather than mindless eating. Take antioxidant and nutrients from food instead of supplements.

Research has not shown antioxidant supplement to be beneficial in preventing diseases as natural diet can play its role. Instead of prioritizing supplements, choose nutrient dense foods and healthy eating pattern. This is the key.

Meal planning and meal shopping should be done with health in mind. Super foods are not the miracle foods to rely upon. It’s the overall healthy dietary plan which matters. People spreading rumors and labeling certain foods as Covid-19 fighting foods are in fact myths which should not be trusted. The basic concept has been given to promote basic understanding about how immune system and he althy diet work together.

– The author is a nutritionist at the Dow University Hospital.

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