Best Foods and Spices for the Immune System
We need a steady source of nutrients for our immune system to function properly, and both Western medicine and Ayurveda identify certain foods, spices, and vitamins that are especially important for immunity. Ayurveda also emphasizes the importance of good digestion and periodic detoxification (which are discussed in the next chapter). Both Western medicine and Ayurveda have tests to determine our immunity levels. Tests used in Western medicine can diagnose immune disorders, including blood tests to determine levels of infection-fighting proteins (immunoglobulin) and the level of blood and immune system cells. In Ayurveda, the diagnostic procedure known as pulse diagnosis (Chapter 16) can determine a person’s immunity by evaluating the level of what is called ojas. Ojas is often equated with immunity, and it is sometimes said that all of Ayurveda is for the purpose of maximizing the amount of ojas in the body.
In Ayurveda, ojas is the most refined byproduct of the physiology resulting from eating the right foods, good digestion, the elimination of toxins in the body, and, in general, the coherent functioning of the mind and body. Ojas is the end-product of perfect digestion and metabolism. It is said to sustain and nourish the all the cells and tissues in the body. It is the link between consciousness and matter. It is often said that the main factor in enhancing ojas is raising one’s consciousness, one’s inner happiness, by becoming more coherent and blissful, more “awake” inside, and the right foods and good digestion are an important part of the formula. Ayurveda says ojas protects cell health, giving each cell the ability to perform its proper functions without being altered by the stresses and strains of daily life. In Ayurveda, the physical body is considered the manifestation of consciousness, and ojas is considered not quite consciousness, but closely connected.
Strong ojas is reflected in a radiance or glow in in the person’s complexion and eyes (radiant health), as well as physical strength, the absence of significant aches or pains, sharp sense organs, mental clarity, creativity, and a profound sense of well-being. Low ojas is typically evidenced by dry skin, weak sense organs resulting in excessive sensitivity to sound and light, significant muscle or joint pain, frequent infections, illness, drowsiness or fatigue, mental confusion or a poor ability to concentrate, a consistently negative attitude, and anxiety or depression. ,
Best Foods for Ojas
Fresh organic foods that are easy to digest are good for building ojas, and the fresher the better. Ayurveda lists these foods and especially the first six as best for building ojas:
Raw (uncooked) honey*
Sweet, juicy fruits generally
Nuts in addition to almonds
* Remember from Chapter 13 that there can be a toxic effect if ghee and honey are ingested in the same meal in the same proportions. Similarly, honey should not be heated so wait for your tea or other drink to cool down a bit before adding honey.
Several Maharishi Ayurveda products are powerful antioxidants and up to 1000 times more powerful than vitamin C in fighting free radicals. They would also be good for building ojas. They are Amrit Kalash Ambrosia and Amrit Nectar and Paste, and there will be others on the mapi.com website.
[Spices to favor for immunity are discussed in the book as well as the Western understandings of foods to promote immunity]
Foods to Reduce or Omit Especially in times of Greater Vulnerability
The following foods are said to compromise your immune system so you may want to be especially careful with these foods during flu season or other times of heightened vulnerability:
Soda and other foods and drinks high in sugar or fructose corn syrup.
Processed foods (much food is processed, but we mean chemically processed foods with additives, preservatives, artificial colors, flavorings and the like). Processed foods and refined carbohydrates (usually found in processed foods) can lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels.
Alcoholic beverages in excess.
Junk food in general.
Heavy foods including red meat.
According to Dr. Nader eat lighter in times of vulnerability, and certainly don’t eat or snack all the time.
Factors that Diminish Ojas
Overexposure to wind or sun
Staying awake through the night