With exams just around the corner, there is no bigger fear for kids as well as parents than falling sick during this time. This article looks at foods that might help boost immunity during this season
By Luke Coutinho
During exam season, both kids and parents suffer from anxiety and exam fever. Taking undue stress, long hours of late night studying and unhealthy snacking is common during this period. Other factors like no activity or time to unwind, peer and parental pressure, bribing kids with food if they do academically well slowly cripple down a students immunity, the very health aspect that supports them during exams.
No doubt exams play an important role in shaping a student’s career and life, but there is no point in aiming for high grades if health is going to be compromised. Exams will come and go, but a student’s immunity will be with them before, during and even after the exam.
We are what we feed ourselves and this holds true for kids as well. Every food choice they are provided passes through the gut, where almost 80 per cent of our immunity lies. The right kind of food rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, probiotics, good quality carbs, protein, and fats can strengthen immunity. In contrast, the wrong kind of food processed and laced with sugar, salt, trans fat can weaken immunity and make kids susceptible to common cold, cough, chest congestion, and fever.
Furthermore, too much salt or sugar can cause acidity, constipation, bloat, and flatulence. A toxic and unhealthy gut is a recipe for low immunity as well as low cognitive abilities. After all, the gut is our second brain. It has every connection with our mental health. The right kind of diet can have a multitude of benefits.
Rewarding kids with a chocolate or a pizza is only going to temporarily give false high and crash down, leaving them irritable. This will also destroy good gut bacteria and encourage bad bacteria/yeast to thrive that sets up immunity for failure.
During exams, students should have a wholesome diet that includes fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
Some potent immunity-boosting foods for this exam season:
All spices in your kitchen - turmeric, cinnamon to the sparingly used star anise, holy basil seeds have immunity-boosting powers, because of the presence of a unique active ingredient in each of them.
For eg: curcumin in turmeric, piperine in pepper, thymol in cumin, shikimic acid in staranise, cinnamaldehde in cinnamon, all exert pro-immune activity in the body. A good way to consume them is to either dry roast the spice (to release its essential oils ) or brew them in hot water and consume with a dash of raw honey.
Both garlic and onion have the power to combat bacteria, viruses and fungi. They provide organic sulphur compounds which are an important immunity boosting mineral and boost the production of a master antioxidant called Glutathione from liver that exhibits radical scavenging activity thereby bucking up immunity. While garlic is rich in nutrients like manganese, Vitamin B6, C and selenium, onion tends to be rich in quercetin and Vitamin C.
Garlic and onion also make potent “drawers”. This means they have the capacity of drawing out toxins from the body, which is why so many Ayurvedic healing centres use poultices made of them to detox and promote healing.
Pure coconut oil is antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal as well as anti-parasitic in nature because it contains two special ingredients: lauric acid and caprylic acid. They can even fight off Candida and a variety of other pathogens in the safest way. Around 3 tbsp of coconut oil evenly spread out throughout the day provides energy to the brain and immunity to the body.
Seeds are rich in omega 3 fatty acids that are not only anti-inflammatory but also form the very structure of immune system cells. They offer nourishment to the brain and contain Zinc, which helps boost immunity. Amongst all seeds, pumpkin seeds have the highest zinc content, however, it doesn’t harm to add a variety of seeds to the diet. Seeds are also rich in Vitamin E.
One must aim to populate the gut with as much good gut bacteria as possible, particularly during exams. Any shift in the ratio between good and bad bacteria has the potential to lower immunity. Its essential when children are on antibiotics during that time as that can deplete the gut of these good guys. Some fantastic sources of probiotics are kimchi, sauerkraut, apple cider vinegar, organic buttermilk, fermented vegetables, kefir, kombucha provided if of a good quality. Even cooked rice soaked overnight in water (aka Pazhankanji in Malayalam) is one of the most potent sources of probiotics.
Oxygen is undoubtedly one of the most underutilised nutrients that is free, available in abundance and has all the ability to reset the immunity directly as well as indirectly. Encourage students to schedule short breaks to engage in deep breathing. Oxygen re-centres, reduces stress and alkalises the body. Just two minutes of deep breathing before sitting to study, in between study, after study, just before writing exams is a good practice to adopt. It’s powerful and works almost immediately.
Kids are usually never stressed about exams. Maybe some of them could be mildly stressed. It is the parents who are more stressed and that rubs off on their children making them anxious all the time, hampering immunity. Stop comparing or using negative words to label your kids abilities. Words and statements are powerful and if used in the wrong way can be as harmful as junk foods. Create and encourage a positive and supportive environment at home, let them truly feel your trust in them. There is no point eating salads, vegetable juices or seeds when the actual root cause of their low immunity is a stressful mind. Strong immunity is not only about what you feed their body, it’s also about what you feed their soul.
With inputs from Luke Coutinho, Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine - Holistic Nutrition and Founder - PureNutrition.me
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