As winter approaches, our immune system may need a bit of a boost to support us in managing the changing seasons and the traditional cold and flu influx that comes our way. Drawn from the Ramana Maharishi Ayurvedic Physicians, here are seven tips to help stay strong—from the inside out.
1. Choose intelligent, easy-to-digest foods. Intelligent foods include fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and light dairy products. If you choose fresh, whole foods that are not altered by processing, then your meal is going to wake up the intelligence of nature and convert quickly to life-enhancing nectar (Ojas). Foods that are processed, canned, frozen or packaged are harder to digest, and thus create Ama (digestive waste). Also, because they are old, denatured by processing, or include harmful ingredients such as chemical preservatives, they no longer contain nature's intelligence. Organically grown foods are best because not only are they free of harsh chemicals, but they also contain more minerals. Vegetarian proteins such as panir (homemade cheese), milk, and pulses (split-mung dhal, lentils and other small, split beans) enhance health and immunity.
2. Cook with immune-boosting spices. Cook your food in a way that doesn't disturb the food's natural intelligence. For instance, if you add mild spices to cooked vegetables, grains and legumes, the food will convert more quickly to Ojas (Again, Ojas is the really good stuff that is like “nectar” in the body and boosts us from the inside out). Spices add good flavor and have a yogic property. They support digestion and make the nutrients easily available to the body. Different spices also have specific immune-boosting properties. Turmeric has an immune-modulating effect because it is detoxifying and enhances the intelligence of the immune cells. Cumin burns Ama, and black pepper clears the channels so Ojas can reach the deeper tissues.
Immunity Spice Mix
(From The Answer to Cancer by Hari Sharma, M.D. and James Meade, Ph.D.)
6 parts turmeric
3 parts ground cumin
3 parts ground coriander
6 parts ground fennel
1 part powdered, dry ginger
1 part ground black pepper
1/4 part ground cinnamon
Mix the spices together well. Heat one teaspoon of the spice mixture in one tablespoon of ghee, using medium-high heat, until the mixture releases an aroma. Remove from the heat immediately so it won't burn. Add this spiced ghee to cooked rice, vegetables, or other foods.
Eat immune-boosting foods. Apples support the immune system because they contain antioxidants and both insoluble and soluble fiber, which cleanse the bowel. All sweet, juicy fruits (such as pears, peaches, plums, sweet pineapple and mangos) enhance immunity because they transform quickly into Ojas. If they are tree-ripened, they convert almost instantly. Pomegranate seed juice and pomegranate seed chutney are also excellent boosters of immunity, because they enhance digestion and elimination without increasing Pitta dosha. A papaya after lunch enhances digestion and increases immunity.
Leafy greens such as Swiss chard, kale, mustard greens and spinach, when cooked and spiced with the immunity spice mix, are great immunity-boosters because they provide iron, calcium and other nutrients while simultaneously cleansing the bowel. Broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower contain antioxidants, flavonoids and other immune-enhancing nutrients. Whole grains such as quinoa, amaranth and barley also have immunity-fighting effects, because they provide cleansing fiber and contain many essential nutrients.
Last but certainly not least, ghee and milk are cherished in the ayurvedic tradition for their Ojas-enhancing effects. Ghee is the most easily digested fat, contains essential fatty acids, and is a great immunity booster. Both milk and ghee should be organic and free of additives, and milk should be boiled with a pinch of cardamom before it is drunk in order to make it easier to digest. Drink it alone, away from meals, to avoid indigestion. If you have never heard of Ghee, you can buy it at New Seasons Market, or your local health food store is likely to care it.
4. Cook your food but not too much. Food becomes more digestible when you cook it. But you don't want to cook it too much, as that reduces its immune-boosting effect. The food should be soft and easy to chew, but not mushy.
5. Eat at the proper time. Eat your main meal in the middle of the day, when the sun is highest and digestion strong. Eat lighter at breakfast and at night, when digestion is weaker. This will enhance immunity. It's also important to eat your meals at the same time every day. Your digestion gets used to a routine, and becomes more efficient.
6. Eat the proper quantity. Eating just the right amount enhances Ojas and supports the immune system. Sip a cup of room-temperature water with your meals, so the meal is part liquid. Eat to only 3/4 of your capacity, in order to leave some space for the digestive process to take place. If you eat until you are really full, it creates discomfort and Ama.
7. Choose foods for your body type and for the season. It's not correct that you can eat anything you want, as long as it's good food. If you want to stay healthy, you need to choose foods that will bring balance to your body type and for the particular season. Whatever influences from the weather and climate is causing an imbalance, you need to counteract them with the food you eat.
Eating cold salads in winter (Vata season), for instance, is not a good idea, because raw salads only increase the cold, dry, light qualities of Vata, when what is needed is a warming, grounding, nourishing diet.
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