Indian kitchen is a treasure of immunity boosting spices and herbs, says Manjari Chandra, author of ‘Eat up, Clean up’

Manjari Chandra says any food with high vitamin C content, or that improves gut health would definitely strengthen immunity

Immunity boosting foods have been a buzzword since March 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic took the world by storm, country by country, forcing unprecedented lifestyle changes across the world. Every home experienced the impact, particularly in the context of food and nutrition. Currently, even as the restrictions are beginning to get lifted, the building blocks for instilling confidence in people begins with bringing back into focus the importance of incorporating immunity boosting food in our daily regime. World over, food conjures up one’s longing for home and the culinary roots that it links back to. Food also becomes synonymous with a sense of belonging and emotional well being, apart from the fact that it is what keeps us physically strong and resilient as well.

Published by Fingerprint! Publishing, Manjari Chandra’s book on healthy eating and sustainable lifestyle habits, ‘Eat up, Clean up’ offers useful insights on how to make healthy food choices. A keynote speaker at various public health conferences and events conducted by ASSOCHAM, FICCI, FSSAI and ISMA, she is also a recipient of prestigious awards including the ASSOCHAM award for ‘Popular Consultant in the field of Health and Nutrition’, CMO Asia World Leadership Award for ‘Women Super Achiever’, among others. Having worked with India’s leading hospitals such as Max Healthcare, Manipal Hospital and Columbia Asia, she is also heading her own platform of Manjari Wellness.

“I am slightly disappointed to see that it took a pandemic of such scale to make people realize the significance of food to build our immunity. But I am happy that the lockdown in India gave people the chance to look back into their kitchen. And to their astonishment, they found the treasure of herbs and spices they have always had in there,” Manjari Chandra told The Financial Express Online.

She adds, “Any food with high vitamin C content, or that improves gut health would definitely strengthen immunity.”

Your book places considerable emphasis on the importance of nutrition. Quoting from your book, ‘Nutrition doesn’t have to mean fancy, fitness freaky food; all it means is a diet that consists of fresh and natural ingredients that fulfill your body’s dietary needs.

What, in your opinion, is the ideal diet regimen for professionals and those in the corporate world?

The combination of natural, wholesome foods works the best for anyone. Since you asked specifically for people working in corporate, I would recommend starting your day with eggs, seeds and nuts. And also, keep them handy for snacking during working hours in the office.

Evening breaks in MNCs see groups of colleagues going to the cafeteria and having patties or samosa in the evening. That’s something I would urge people to avoid as much as possible and substitute it with a vegetable such as cucumber and tomatoes or nuts, like walnuts and almonds.

Since most of the work is sedentary that involves sitting on the computer, one must ensure to eat lean protein and high-fat foods with low carbs to avoid gaining body fat. This can include eating eggs, whole grain roti made from jowar, bajra or singhara, home-cooked vegetables and lentils, and low-glycemic fruits, such as papaya and berries.

I personally recommend people to have complimentary home-made yogurt at least once a day.

Given the Indian context where we have seen the onset of lifestyle diseases such as hypertension, obesity, diabetes, heart attacks increasing, can you elaborate on how simple nutrition strategies can elevate their health quotient?

It is indeed quite simple. First and foremost, we need to substitute our cooking oil with traditional oils containing good fats. These include home-made ghee, raw cold pressed mustard oil and coconut oil.

Second, we got to manage our obsession with Masala chai with added milk.

The best equivalent to the Masala chai with potent benefits is ginger-lemon tea or tea with very little milk avoiding the sugar. And of course people need to stop eating processed food because the fact of the matter is that it contains 75% of the salt we eat daily without realizing it.

And excess salt is the major culprit for hypertension, high cholesterol levels, further leading to heart disease. Simultaneously, we need to incorporate unsaturated and heart-healthy fats in our diet. It can be done by having olive oil, nuts, whole grains, legumes, and beans.

Q. What are the simple and easy-to-do lifestyle changes that we can introduce in our daily routine to improve our health and strengthen immunity? Specific tips would help.

So, there are a couple of keywords I want people to focus on.

These are vitamin C and gut health.

Any food with high vitamin C content, or that improves gut health would definitely strengthen immunity.

My personal favourites are ginger, turmeric, cilantro leaves, kiwifruit, onions, garlic, cabbage, and star anise – very easy to buy and incorporate into our diet.

I would recommend starting by drinking ginger-lemon tea regularly. Both ginger and lemon have concentrated vitamin C and exhibit potent antiviral properties.

You can easily add cilantro leaves, garnishing your rice dishes, vegetables, lentil dishes, soups, and salads. I would suggest buying the whole turmeric and not the packed one. You can grind the whole turmeric at home and add 1-2 tbsp of it to your lentil dishes and vegetables.

Let me also tell you an interesting fact.

Herbs and spices like cilantro, turmeric, and garlic are also beneficial in removing heavy metal toxins from our bodies – the ability that is not possessed by many ingredients.

Further, I would emphasize having probiotics daily that directly improve our gut health. Incorporate home-made yogurt in your meals once a day, drink buttermilk, eat pickled vegetables and add apple cider vinegar in your cooked and baked food, you could also have ACV raw with warm water.

Due to COVID-19 pandemic, most people are now interested in how Ayurveda improves our immunity. What is your take on this growing trend and how do you evaluate the Indian kitchen as being a treasury of Ayurvedic secrets that are a part of our culinary choices even though we may not be aware of it?

There’s a growing debate around the health benefits of wholesome food. People are quoting Ayurveda and finding measures to prevent and combat microbial infections.

The concept of Sattvic food indicated by Ayurveda, which I have also highlighted in my book, is the best eating routine for optimum physical health and mental wellbeing. And eating Sattvic implies having natural and wholesome food. It does not mean that you have to compromise on taste.

In fact, natural herbs and spices, which Ayurveda has been promoting for ages, impart the most lip-smacking flavors in any food. And all of them have anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties at one level or the other.

So, I am not the first one to advocate for their potential benefits. Really, it is no hidden secret.

They are out there for everyone to consume and reap benefits.

READ: Ten Things Your Skinny Friends Don’t Tell You!

During the pandemic, several food startups have come out with innovative offerings, which they say is showing an uptick in terms of consumer demand – such as Ayurvedic teas with essential immunity building spices, nutritional prebiotic chocolates etc. Given the increasing demand for such innovative offerings now, what is your outlook on these trends?

Immunity has, indeed, taken the center-stage during the times of Covid-19. And for entrepreneurs and businesses, challenges equal opportunities. Now, I am not saying that these claims are dubious or the products are a waste of money. I haven’t tested them.

However, at the risk of repeating myself, I would reiterate the fact that all the herbs and spices, which different brands are offering, are actually out there in the open. They are all available at affordable prices in the market. All we need to do is take some half an hour from our daily routine and prepare some innovative recipes from them.

With so much technology available at hand, it is not that difficult. For starters, you can make the healthiest chutney at home with cilantro, mint leaves, green onions, and half a lemon. I have already told you about ginger-lemon tea. Add to it some turmeric and black pepper for further benefits. Again, it is what I have emphasized in my book as well that we need to begin from our kitchen.

Home-made yogurt or pickle will offer the same benefits as prebiotic chocolates, but with the goodness of purity and without any added preservatives.

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