Written by Luke Coutinho and published on 23 July 2021.
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 may help boost immunity during this season.
During exam season, both kids and parents suffer from anxiety and exam fever. Facing 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 a student's 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 with 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 and trans fat can weaken immunity, and make kids susceptible to the common cold, cough, chest congestion, and fever.
Furthermore, too much salt or sugar can cause acidity, constipation, bloating 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 chocolate or a pizza is only going to give a temporary false high and crash down, leaving them irritable. This will also destroy good gut bacteria and encourage bad bacteria/yeast to thrive thereby setting up the immunity for failure.
During exams, students should have a wholesome diet that includes fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
All spices in your kitchen - turmeric, cinnamon, the sparingly used star anise, the holy basil seeds and so on - have immunity-boosting powers, because of the presence of a unique active ingredient in each of them.
For example, curcumin in turmeric, piperine in pepper, thymol in cumin, shikimic acid in star anise, cinnamaldehyde 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 important immunity-boosting minerals. They boost the production of a master antioxidant called glutathione in the liver. This antioxidant 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, anti-fungal 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.
Pumpkin 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. It should be noted that of all the seeds, pumpkin seeds have the highest zinc content.
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. Also, this is essential when children are on antibiotics, as they can deplete the gut of these good guys. Some fantastic sources of probiotics are kimchi, sauerkraut, apple cider vinegar, organic buttermilk, fermented vegetables, kefir and kombucha (provided it is 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 under-utilised 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 reduces stress and alkalises the body. Just two minutes of deep breathing before sitting to study, in between study, after study and 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 food. Create and encourage a positive and supportive environment at home, let them truly feel your trust in them. There is no point in eating salad, vegetable juice 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.
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About the expert:
Written by Luke Coutinho on 19 February 2018; updated on 10 February 2020
The author is a globally renowned Holistic Lifestyle Coach practising in the field of Integrative Medicine.
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