Typical Indian is undergoing a nutritional shift, resulting in a diet that is high in fat, high salt and high sugar (HFSS) , low fiber and low protein intake with sedentary lifestyle.
By Dr.Geeta Dharmatti
The definition of health is tersely defined by the World Health Organization as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. A good immune system therefore becomes a precursor for a good health. The immune system is not a single entity. It has a lot of moving parts and to function it properly requires a harmony of plethora of factors. Each person’s immunity is unique as per their genetic make-up and is dependent on factors like nourishment and their environment exposure. Nutrition is the foundation of healthy immune system along the confluence of variables like lifestyle, stress and exercise discipline.
Typical Indian is undergoing a nutritional shift, resulting in a diet that is high in fat, high salt and high sugar (HFSS) , low fiber and low protein intake with sedentary lifestyle. A large number of Indians have a lower intake of vitamins and other micronutrients.
Focusing on nutrient-rich foods and a well-balanced diet is the best way to obtain these desired nutrients. We need to narrow the gap between nutrition and immunity. Promoting healthy environment is key, WHO believes in creating a healthy food environment with healthy dietary practices. There is no single food or supplement that can build immunity. Infact- it is a long-drawn process. A diet enriched with nutrients is a first step towards it. The role of vitamins and minerals in supporting immunity is widely publicized, however- another nutrient of the food palate that has a major role in building immunity is Protein.
With systemic and clinical data review, Vitamin A, B6, B12, C, D, E , Folate, Zinc, Iron, Copper, and Selenium are particularly important for immunity boosting. Supplementation, foods rich in these nutrients will help in supporting good immune strength. Current advice on supplementation concludes that consuming a balanced diet provides all the necessary nutrition required but where there are challenges in meeting dietary recommendations, supplements are a useful addition in helping meet our nutritional needs (WHO, 2020)*.
Proteins are associated with the growth and development, maintenance of muscle mass, transport of oxygen, healthy hairs and nails, and as a source of energy. A low protein diet can also affect bones as calcium and protein intake interact constructively to affect bone health. Too little protein in diet may lead to symptoms of weakness, fatigue, apathy and poor immunity.
Proteins are made up of amino acids. Essential amino acids needs to be a part of our diet as our body cannot make it, non- essential amino acids can be made from essential amino acids. . Protein supports immune cells including leucocytes, cytokines, phagocytes all of which are vital in maintaining the immunity
Knowing how much Protein to consume is important since protein needs is a function of age, gender, weight and physical activity. There is a change in protein requirement at the onset of special conditions like pregnancy & lactation. A period of illness and convalescence also demands an increase in protein requirement. As per the recommendations by ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research), a healthy adult needs 1 g of protein per Kg body weight per day. To illustrate the point- if a person’s weight is 70kgs, he/she will require 70g dietary protein per day on an average. The protein requirement will be higher if you engaged in any physical activity. Protein requirement also goes up if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
How to meet protein requirements
Proteins are defined basis the presence of amino acids and certain proteins don’t have all the nine essential amino acids. Such proteins are incomplete proteins. Most of animal – based sources of protein such as egg, chicken, fish are complete source of proteins while vegetarian sources like dals and nuts are incomplete proteins i.e. they do not provide all the desired 9 essential amino acids needed by the body. To ensure one is able to get good quality protein, a simple method called complementation of amino acids can be followed wherein two or more sources of protein are mixed together. For eg. Khichdi with combination of cereal and pulses, kheer with milk and cereal and so on.
Since protein is not stored in body, it becomes inevitable that it must be consumed daily. The exigencies of daily life hinder the inclusion of protein in diet and hence nutritional supplement can help to offset any protein and other micronutrient gaps in diet.
It is important to view Protein and micronutrients from the prism of immunity and see its role in cementing the same. It’s role use goes beyond building muscles
(The author is Director of Nutriheal Consultancy. Views expressed are personal.)