Dr Anju Venkat, health counselor and nutritionist, shares her knowledge on the food and lifestyle you should adopt this summer to make your body work for you!
All around us, everything in nature is connected—the trees, waterbodies, flowers, air, rain. The human body, too, is an intricate part of this connection with nature, which is designed to support life.
Changes in nature have a direct impact on the human body and its systems because it carries out multiple functions every day. And for every function, our body needs resources to support it. Digging into nature’s vast reserves offers us the dynamic basis of nutrition, which is more than just food. In essence, the human body is programmed to function on nature’s laws and keeping the body in rhythm with nature will ensure it is fit and healthy.While the body has naturally evolved to adapt to the changing seasons, it still requires some “extra” functions to carry out all the internal changes (to balance blood pressure, sugar and water levels) to support any change in the external environment. Adapting to these changes effortlessly is what a well-functioning immune system does automatically. However, when the body is not able to carry out these functions with ease and efficiency, it communicates with us through various signals. For example, when we transition to summer, we face dehydration and exhaustion. These responses communicate the need to replenish certain resources, such as water, that we are lacking in.
Diet and lifestyle play a big role in keeping our immune system strong and boosted. In the human body, changes in temperature and humidity bring about changes in our gut microbiome, which regulates the immune system. One way of keeping it strong is by supporting our gut flora by creating a variety in food choices. You should eat seasonal, local and regional foods so that your microbiome is well-equipped to protect, defend and carry out internal functions.
In the summer, the foods that most commonly available are fruits that are watery and sweet like watermelon, muskmelon, tadgolas, gooseberries, mangoes; mineral-rich watery veggies like cucumber, tomatoes and gourds; and greens like spinach and herbs. Consuming these foods provides the ammunition required to keep the immune system strong.
Keep these tips in mind for the summer.
- We sweat more, are parched and thirsty and feel more tired and sluggish in the summer. We lose valuable mineral salts in this process, and yet our brain and other organs must function smoothly. Our body therefore sends signals asking for hydration to cope, and the food we eat should not create more heat within.
- During the summer, the quickest way to feel energetic is by eating fresh, juicy fruits. Since fruits are pre-digested (which means they are almost instantly available as energy for use in the body), they do not trigger acid secretion in the gut and provide much-needed energy without heating up the digestive system. Fruit can be had whole, pulped into juices or smoothies, frozen into ice cubes or lollies or these fruit ice cubes can be grated and shaved into granitas.
- Avoid and minimize eating processed and packaged foods as these foods increase the acid in the body, which hampers gut flora. Eat cereals, like varieties of millets such as finger millet (ragi) and barley (jau), as these are easy to digest and best suited for this weather. Wheat and pearl millet (bajra) are winter crops and are best kept to a minimum.
- Out-of-season foods contain lower levels of nutrients and higher levels of harmful substances like lectin, which damages the walls of our intestines and unbalances the gut microbiome. These foods are also treated with pesticides or chemicals to speed up ripening, neither of which is good for our gut.
- Changing the herbs and spices we use in our food as the seasons change brings about a remarkable change in the way we taste and experience food and flavours. This, in turn, affects our moods and temperament. Use milder fragrant herbs and spices like fennel, dill, mint and bay leaf. Avoid hot spices (garam masalas) andrich deep-fried food.
- Meals that take a long time to digest keep the flow of acid in the gut going, leading to feeling hot and uncomfortable. During the day, when the sun is at its peak, keeping to a quick-to-digest meal, like a non-grain meal packed with veggies, sprouts and greens, is the best thing. These meals provide sustained energy, without over burdening the digestive process.
- Allergies occur when our immune system is overactive. As we have seen, with changes in seasons, our body tries to adapt, and the immune system works overtime. This needs extra resources from the body, and if it does not have them, the body can sometimes slow down the daily function of cleansing, which can lead to a pile up of toxins and acid in the body. Higher acid and toxins can also over-activate the immune system. An overactive immune system can then see anything foreign, whether it is pollen or weed, as danger and respond through an allergy as a protective action.
- Cooling the body down often through “shutting down” or switching off as mini-breaks as well as sleeping well at night are some other ways in which heat generation is minimized. You can also cool down the body by using water, which is most relaxing to our nerves and muscles, but most importantly to the air-conditioner in our body—our skin. Bathing or even using a cold wet towel on the neck, abdomen and feet can quickly drop internal temperatures. The cooling and calming effects of water can be enhanced with the use of aroma oils. Rose, eucalyptus, lavender, sandalwood are all cooling fragrances. Add these oils to your bath, use a diffuser or spray them on your pillow.
- A healthy gut, and hence healthy immunity, go hand-in-hand with a good night’s sleep. Going to bed early and sleeping in darkness is important. Sleep deprivation throws the gut microbiome balance, affecting our immunity.
- Spending time in nature increases our microbial diversity, both by exposing us to all kinds of bacteria and by lowering our stress levels. Going out early in the morning and evening in the summer is good for us. In fact, playing a sport and bonding with people are great immunity boosters.
- Our mind is an important factor that affects our gut microbiome, which is also known as the second nervous system. While positive thoughts have a positive effect on our gut and immunity, negative thoughts can bring down immunity.
Mumbai-based Dr Anju Venkat is a leading nutritionist and co-facilitator at the Health Awareness Centre (THAC). The centre works on the philosophy of natural laws. They believe that the human body is genetically designed to function based on nature’s blueprint. They are known to study, research and propagate the use of natural laws to look at the underlying principles guiding our mind and body, to enable growth and maintenance, with minimum interference or dependence on short term quick fixes. Their focus is on self-care based on lifestyle choices in harmony with nature’s rhythms.