The monsoon is the time of the year when your immunity is at its lowest, the time when you need to be almost vigilante-like about what goes into your system.
From flu or stomach bug to the more taxing infections/diseases such as jaundice and typhoid, to the downright dangerous hepatitis A or E , there are any number of monsoon maladies. People with particularly sensitive systems are also susceptible to allergies, skin, respiratory and digestive problems. Doctors and nutritionists say the best way to counter the ill-effects of the season is to boost your immunity through regulated sleep, exercise and, of course, diet.
What your meals must not have
Culturally, the traditional cycle of eating followed by different communities is a good indicator of what foods to avoid when, says Mumbai-based food writer and author of My Mumbai Cookbook, Rushina Munshaw Ghildyal. For instance, she says, for Hindus, the period of Shradh that requires austere eating (when you restrict your diet to vegetarian) starts during the late monsoon. Jains have their annual fasting period about now; that is the time when they stop eating green, leafy vegetables. Gujaratis avoid heavy lentils (that are harder to digest) such as rajma; in Maharashtra, people stop eating seafood from June until Nariyal Poornima in August. “Fish is not a good idea because it degenerates quickly in this weather, and it’s also breeding season,” says Ghildyal.
Roadside temptations: While they may seem delicious and tempting, steer clear of street food such as chuskis (flavoured ice lollies) and pav bhaji during the monsoon. Opt for home-cooked food. Photographs by Hemant Mishra/Mint
Most of the diseases that prevail during the monsoon, such as diarrhoea, typhoid and jaundice, are waterborne. At the top of the list of things to avoid is anything that contains water from outside, says family physician and consultant at Breach Candy hospital, Mumbai, Vishakha Shivdasani, who specializes in nutrition. “This means skip the sev puri, bhelpuri, gola,” she says. Also, avoid anything uncooked such as salads, or cold cuts such as ham and salami, as they have a higher chance of bacterial infection. This also means you should maintain strict personal and kitchen hygiene, wash hands religiously, wash vegetables with potassium permanganate, and make sure everything is properly cooked because the high temperature and humidity levels are ideal for the growth of bacteria. Don’t keep leftovers in the fridge for too long; consume them within 24 hours, she adds.
In the monsoon, it is essential to consume foods that build immunity, and a diet consisting largely of junk food, refined sugar, white rice, and refined fats low in vitamins and minerals can weaken the immune system, says Delhi-based nutritionist Ishi Khosla. Care must be taken, therefore, that all your meals and snacks strengthen your immunity.
Must on your food platter
It was the era of no-refrigeration that gave birth to concepts such as consuming pakodas during the monsoon. Traditional monsoon fare, says Khosla, was preferably deep-fried because these were foods that could stay longer. Now these concerns are not quite valid thanks to refrigeration, she says.
“A healthy immune system requires a number of nutrients in balance, including proteins, essential fats, vitamins and minerals. A diet consisting of a variety of foods, adequate calories and rich in wholegrains, pulses, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, low-fat dairy and fatty fish, low in sugar, alcohol and bad fats, along with a healthy lifestyle, is the key to good immune function,” says Khosla. Proteins help the body build antibodies, as do substances that contain beta carotene, B-complex vitamins, vitamins C and E.
The body craves something hot and spicy, and instead of eating samosas from a roadside vendor or an unreliable eatery (with a spicy chutney that may have been made with tap water), it’s better to have healthier substitutes at home. For instance, if you must have a pakoda, make sure it’s made with vegetables (instead of paneer, which is heavier) in lighter oil (such as olive oil, as opposed to mustard oil), or better still, a cooked salad or corn on the cob, says Dr Shivdasani. Use lots of sprouts—better still if heated. Green, leafy vegetables can be swapped with vegetables such as pumpkin or gourd, and red meat and fish skipped for some lightly cooked chicken, adds Ghildyal.
Follow these simple dietary guidelines during the rainy season
• In general, diet should be light, low on fat and easily digestible. Rich, oily and spicy food must be avoided, as also extremely cold food and cold beverages as you are prone to catching influenza.
Stay clear: Avoid extremely cold food.
• One should avoid street food as the incidence of food-borne illnesses shoots up in this weather owing to favourable temperatures for increased microbial growth (especially bacteria). Also, street food is exposed to dust and flies, which also contribute to food-borne illnesses.
•Leftovers: Precooked food should always be refrigerated
and preferably consumed within 24 hours .
• Water: With the rain, incidents of waterborne infections such as typhoid, cholera, hepatitis and diarrhoea also tend to increase. Besides general hygiene and precautions in food, the quality of water also needs to be regulated.
Unfortunately, most tap and well water is not safe for drinking due to heavy industrial and environmental pollution. Water supplies from municipalities rarely meet standards.
A good water filtration system at home is the only way to ensure the quality and safety of drinking water. Water from community water systems can definitely be treated/purified at home through any of these processes—boiling, chemical treatment, filtration or reverse osmosis.