For better immunity, try a macrobiotic diet 

Defined as a diet aimed at balancing the yin and yang, a macrobiotic diet can be used to boost immunity providing better protection against diseases

The Coronavirus has the world leading a restricted life. Social distancing, lockdowns and limited movement are the new normal. Even as all necessary measures are being employed to contain the spread of the virus, the risk of people getting infected is increasing day by day. This, along with there being no cure for the virus yet, has made people vulnerable.

The best thing in the present circumstances is to maintain a healthy immune system that can fight off the virus — and a very important role in the maintenance of a healthy immune system is played by dietary habits. There are many different diets, adherence to which can enhance the immunity of an individual. One of these, that has received a lot of attention recently, is a macrobiotic diet.

To help us get a better picture of a macrobiotic diet and its benefits, Dr Nabanita Saha, Chief Dietician, Manipal Hospitals and Anita Jatana, Chief Dietician, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital share their valuable insights.

Dr Nabanita explains a macrobiotic diet as being “primarily based on the consumption of locally and organically grown whole grains, vegetables, beans and some amount of fish, fruits and nuts. It is said to improve health and increase longevity”. She shares that the word “macrobiotic” has Greek origins and translates as “long life” and that an ideal macrobiotic diet mainly consists of three foods: whole grains (60%), vegetables (30%) and beans or legumes (10%). “The main objective of a macrobiotic diet is to counter the effects of acidic food (grains) with alkaline food (vegetables and beans) and thus balancing the pH environment of the gut thereby improving gut health,” she adds.

Anita Jatana adds, “A macrobiotic diet, which is high in whole grains, vegetables, legumes and fermented products, with no animal products and no added sugars, improves glycemic control, reduces insulin requirements, improves insulin sensitivity, lowers blood cholesterol and triglycerides, reduces body weight control, and lowers systolic blood pressure.” She further says that dietary habits may also modify the gastrointestinal microflora composition, which could improve gut health.

Talking about the immunity-boosting properties of a macrobiotic diet, Anita says that eating a low-fat, plant-based diet may help give the immune system a boost. “Fruits and vegetables provide nutrients—like beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E—that can boost immune function. Because many vegetables, fruits, and other plant-based foods are also rich in antioxidants, they help reduce oxidative stress.”

Dr Nabanita Saha lists the benefits of a macrobiotic diet. She states that a macrobiotic diet is rich in carbohydrates, whole grains and vegetables with no animal fat or protein or added sugar, as such in short- and medium-term trials conducted in patients with T2D, the diet has been found to significantly improve indicators of metabolic control including fasting blood glucose, HbA1c, the serum lipid profile, body mass index (BMI), body weight and blood pressure.

However, as is the case with everything, there are downsides of the diet as well. Dr Saha warns that due to the restrictions in many food groups like meat, poultry, dairy and eggs, the diet can be deficient in many macro and micro-nutrients such as protein, fat, Vitamin B12, iron, calcium and zinc. “If not planned and balanced properly with plant sources or with supplements, one can develop a deficiency of these nutrients. Also, it’s difficult to follow in terms of finding the right ingredients and could be costly,” she explains. She further goes on to say that due to the lack of proteins and other nutrients, the diet is not recommended for someone with an intensive exercise routine.

Anita Jatana also says that there are many benefits of following a macrobiotic diet. Following a macrobiotic diet may also be beneficial for weight loss and diabetes. In a report published in 2014, researchers analysed findings from four 21-day-long studies and found that adopting a macrobiotic diet helped improve blood sugar control and reduce cardiovascular risk in adults with diabetes.

Other than this, studies suggest that eating a macrobiotic diet may help to reduce the risk of cancer in certain individuals. “In addition, other factors such as reducing red and processed meat intake, maintaining a healthy weight, exercise, reducing stress, avoidance of smoking, and other lifestyle factors are also important.”

Dr Saha also says, “Macrobiotic diet due to its inculcation of healthy food groups and avoiding any processed, junk food, red meats, and sugary food items seems to be a good diet for cancer patients. But one may need to modify it further based on individual needs”.

When it comes to the downsides, Anita Jatana says that the restrictions and the limitation of nutrients means including a lean source of protein like fish is good for the body. She also advises the use of “non-dairy foods fortified with calcium and vitamin D, such as soy and almond milk as the diet eliminates dairy”.

Both Dr Saha and dietitian Anita Jatana recommend that following a macrobiotic diet should be done while keeping in mind the limitations on the ability of the diet to ensure wholesome nutrition. Dr Saha recommends, “A healthy balanced diet that includes whole grains, vegetables, legumes, beans, fruits, fish and some amounts of nuts from the macrobiotic diet.” She also suggests including some amount of dairy, lean meats and poultry if you prefer them to have a balanced diet.

Summing up the essence of a macrobiotic diet, Anita says, “Food preparation techniques, including steaming or sautéing, are recommended. A macrobiotic diet should be eaten in a focused, thoughtful, and slow manner without distractions, such as the television.” She advises eating food to satisfy hunger and chew it many times.

At a time when ensuring a good immune system is of utmost importance a macrobiotic diet after including the components it misses out on seems like a good way to ensure a healthy immune system.

Dr Reshma is an advocate of wellness, prevention and holistic health. Instagram handle: dr.reshmakhattarbhagat

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