By Vic Shayne, Author
The Super Foods Diet: Nature’s most powerful foods for healing, prevention and weight loss
Practicing prevention through natural healthcare is a relatively new idea to the West, but in the East it has been the mainstay of Ayurveda and other ancient healing modalities. Why wait to get sick before you decide to act? The healthier the foods you eat, the more you’ll be able to depend on your immune system when you need to. There are some proactive steps you can take that are as easy as walking into your kitchen.
The immune system, in brief, consists of the body’s many organs and mechanisms for warding off illness and maintaining good health. If you feed your body the right foods, avoid toxins, balance your emotions, and handle stress, your immune system will be able to do what it’s designed to do. Ayurvedic doctor Balaji Pavar explains that the immune system — referred to as “ojas” in traditional Indian healthcare — is a fine vital energy that’s concentrated in the heart chakra. When health weakens, this means that ojas energy in the body has decreased.
As a unit, the human body produces and expends energy. It also works on solving a multitude of problems at the same time — getting rid of waste, keeping the organs functioning, digesting foods, and so on. Normally, the body is able to juggle all of these functions and more when it is healthy and balanced. But when the body becomes overloaded, such as through stress, fear, anxiety, toxicity, and other influences, then the immune system is adversely affected.
Stress and the Immune System
There is a simple explanation for why optimum health means finding a way to balance stress and worry. Chronic stress, which can result from such lifestyle stressors as focusing on bad news — including our recent pandemic — puts the body into a continual state of fight or flight. The body naturally reacts to this ongoing stress as a threat, so it slows or shuts down important functions and shunts its energy away from digestion, detoxification, and other processes. At the same time, inflammation increases. Cellular biologist and author Bruce Lipton said that most illness is stress from not living in harmony. Practitioners of Ayurveda would agree with this holistic insight.
Ayurveda had a full understanding of the impact of the mind on the body long before scientists began to study mind-body interactions. Author and Ayurvedic doctor Vasant Lad teaches that good health comes from prevention and the maintenance of health through close attention to balance from right thinking, diet, lifestyle, and the use of herbs. Ayurveda focuses on how to create this balance of body, mind, and consciousness, according to one’s own individual constitution, as well as how to make lifestyle changes to bring about and maintain this balance.
Dr. Lad wrote that internal and external factors — including diet and food choices, seasons and weather, physical trauma, work and family relationships, and so on —can disturb the health. Looking through the lens of Ayurveda, balance is the natural order, while imbalance is disorder. And while constant interaction between order and disorder is ever-present in the body, the goal of Ayurvedic healthcare is to re-establish order.
A healthful diet leads to the restoration of balance. Unfortunately, in a society largely dependent on over-the-counter health aids and convenience foods, many people generally do not know which foods nourish their bodies, which ones make them healthy or sick, and which ones boost the immune system. If you need a little help getting on the right track, follow these basic guidelines.
Eat Real Foods
This seems like a ridiculously obvious thing to say, but the fact is that people in our modern world are not eating natural foods at all. Here’s the truth: A real food is made in nature, while a non-food is made in a manufacturing plant. Real foods are what you find on the perimeter of a grocery store in the produce section. Non-foods (often referred to as processed foods) are found in the middle of the store and have only been around for a short while, because they are an advent of the post WWII industrial revolution. The human body has not evolved to consume and utilize them without inviting in a whole host of adverse side effects.
Eating a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, seeds, legumes, nuts, herbs, grains, and spices is a great place to begin when restoring balance to your immune system.
The human body, just like all animal bodies, are only designed to consume foods found in nature; grown in soil under the sun; and without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. Nature is founded upon a food chain, of which human beings, animals, and everything else is an integral part. The Upanishads refers to every being in nature as a food body. Because this process of food bodies is a closed system, it contains all the nutrients needed to heal, sustain, and promote health throughout the food chain and with all life forms, if kept pure. But if you are not eating real foods, then you are out of sync with the universe, and this leads to all sorts of problems — including an impaired immune system.
Organic, bio-regenerative, and/or sustainable farming practices produce real foods that the body recognizes as nutritionally sound. When you eat these foods while also practicing some form of meditation that calms your mind, your immune system is given the building blocks it needs to balance itself out from stress, fear, inflammation, environmental pollutants, and so on.
Eat Specific Foods to Build Your Immune System
Eating a balanced diet of untainted fruits, vegetables, seeds, legumes, nuts, herbs, grains, and spices is a great place to begin when restoring balance to your immune system. There are also many specific foods and herbs that directly boost your body’s capacity to defend itself. Ayurveda’s top herbs include Tulsi, Moringa, Amalaki, Katuki, and Turmeric.
Ayurvedic food recommendations are made based upon the three doshas — Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. These are three fundamental qualities that exist in every aspect and expression of consciousness. An Ayurvedic practitioner evaluates his/her patient to determine when a dosha is out of balance, and works to restore harmony with a prescription of herbs, dietary modifications, lifestyle changes, massage treatments, and other methods.
There are foods that have been used to support the immune system for millennia. Among them are ginger, turmeric, cumin, ghee, red lentils, apples, green leafy vegetables, cardamom, and cinnamon.
In this light, the foods an Ayurvedic doctor would recommend to boost the immune system would take into consideration your particular dosha and its relationship to other doshas (including the dosha of the season), as well as any symptoms that may be present. If you have a low ojas (immune system response) level, you will experience greater vulnerability to various infections and pathogens. Negative emotions also can affect ojas, so the practitioner must take into account the patient’s feelings, such as anger, worry, excessive fatigue, and hunger.
Generally speaking, however, there are some foods that have been used to support the immune system for millennia. Among them are ginger, turmeric, cumin, ghee, red lentils, apples, green leafy vegetables, stimulating spices, cardamom, and cinnamon. Plus, there are healing herbs in the form of teas and tonics, like ashwagandha, triphala, and amla; as well as vegetables that include spinach, kale, curly-leaf cabbage, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. Whole grains, such as quinoa, amaranth, and flax seeds boost the immune system, because their fiber and nutrient content are said to clean the body of toxic substances.
Avoid These Foods
It’s easy to remember which foods should be avoided. Simply, if it is not natural, don’t eat it. But in this era of slick marketing, you can’t go by a label that simply claims a product has “natural ingredients.” Instead, you have to differentiate between a food that grows in nature versus one that must be sold in a package that requires a label to know what’s inside. Therefore, avoid all processed foods — including anything with chemicals listed on the label, refined sugars (brown sugar is also refined), frozen foods, and pre-packaged foods. Ayurveda does not recommend the consumption of meat for several reasons, including that it is difficult to digest.
Eat Right for Your Type
Many Ayurvedic doctors feel that their healing wisdom was aptly expressed by the ancient Greeks who taught that food should be your best medicine. The best advice for boosting your immune system, then, is to eat the right foods, avoid the wrong ones, look into the power of herbs and herbal teas, and study your particular dosha and what brings it into balance.