Food for immunity: Chef Sarah Edwards on the importance of 'eating the rainbow' and a mindful diet

Indulge speaks to the plant-based chef about how to boost your immunity during these COVID times 

Anagha M Published :  19th May 2021 04:09 PM   |   Published :   |  19th May 2021 04:09 PM
Sarah Edwards

Sarah Edwards

One of our favourite plant-based cafes in Bengaluru is the Copper + Cloves cafe in Indiranagar. The chef behind it, Sarah Edwards is a certified health coach who also coaches clients one-on-one to support them to create healthy habits. As the country struggles with the second wave of the pandemic, Indulge chats with Sarah about immunity boosting foods, cooking techniques and nutrition:

According to you, what are the top five ingredients that we should incorporate in our daily diet.
I feel during times when there is a lot of fear, it can be easy to fixate on specific 'magic' ingredients that can be consumed each day to boost our immunity, but the real magic is in the consistency of lots of little health habits- and when it comes to our daily food, this means eating a wide variety of whole, unprocessed and mostly plant-based foods. Rather than really specific ingredients, my picks have to be broader, healthful groups! It's better to eat different things each day from these broad groups than the same things each day:
Something dark green and leafy every day- methi, palak, amaranth leaves, arugula, kale. These leafy greens are full of phytonutrients and fibre. Keep switching it up as variety of different plants is the key to a healthy diet.

Try and eat one veggie from the cruciferous vegetable family every day- they are full of important nutrients and different types of fibre which are crucial for a healthy digestive system. The cruciferous veggie family includes cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage- red and green, knol kol.

Whole grains- there are so many wonderful varieties- brown, red and black rice, all the different millets, ragi, jowar, pearl barley, dahlia- please aim to have a different one each day! Whole grains have all the protein, fibre and nutrition compared to their processed counterparts (white rice, maida etc.), so it is an easy swap to make to up your nutritional content. If you aren't used to eating whole grains- start slowly, as your digestive system gets used to them.

Fermented foods - a healthy, thriving gut microbiome (meaning a gut full of good bacteria and yeasts) is actually the foundation of a strong immune system and our overall health in general! Sauerkraut, kimchi, tepache, kombucha, kefir etc are easy to make at home or available from healthy cafes and organic stores.

Sprinkle seeds on top of every thing for added protein and nutrients like magnesium and calcium. Again I don't want to name one as 'the best'- but having a mix of hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds in your cupboard, and sprinkling them on sabzi, curries, rice, salads and smoothies as a 'topper' not only adds a satisfying 'crunch' but also adds nutrition. Grind up flax seeds in your mixie to a rough powder and sprinkle that over anything (grinding flax makes it more digestible). 

Could you share some insights about how the method of cooking can affect the efficacy of certain foods. How to retain maximum nutrition?
Yes. There has been misinformation that raw foods are somehow the healthiest. It's just not true - incorporating some raw and some cooked veggies is best day to day. Whilst some foods are really enjoyable raw- for example, beautiful red tomatoes tossed simply with olive oil, salt and a few mint leaves is delicious and healthy- however, a variety of cooking methods also is important. When we cook tomatoes, different nutrients are more bio-available than when eaten raw. One  is not better than the other in this case- mixing it up day to day is the best thing to do. Your diet has room for raw carrot sticks one day, and lightly sauteed carrots in your sabzi too! Always cooking veggies until they are very very soft means we miss out on crucial fibre types. But generally, if a veggie doesn't taste good raw, don't eat it raw- e.g. potatoes, yams, and gourds.

Steam veggies rather than boil them, so nutrients are not leached out into the water. If you do boil, use the boiled water as stock for stews, soups and curries. Most whole grains really benefit from being soaked for a few hours before cooking them for maximum bio-availability of the nutritents contained within them Roasting veggies in a tray also preserves the nutrients. Cutting up veggies into even size pieces, tossing them in a little salt,olive oil, herbs,lemon and chilli flakes and shoving them in your oven for 30-40 minutes. Its super easy,and you get caramelised veggies which you can add to sandwiches, blend in soups or add to a few leaves to make a salad. 

When ordering food from outside, especially when in quarantine with Covid, what are the dos and don'ts?
In lockdown and when recovering in quarantine it's very normal to feel a little lethargic and demotivated- and this can lead to getting into the habit in ordering in from outside. The problem is, the ordering in apps lead us to whatever path the sponsors want us to go down, which can result in making impulsive, unhealthy food choices. I would spend a bit of time at the beginning of the day thinking- how do I want to eat today? What will nourish me? What do I really need? Take a moment to tune into your body. Some days, we may absolutely know, from the outset that we feel like having a more indulgent meal- say a pizza for dinner- and this is absolutely okay in moderation. Other days, we know we will do better on simple home food and tons of veggies. Planning a bit in advance, and not going onto these apps when we are already hungry (and more likely to make impulsive decisions) is a good strategy. The good thing is there are plenty of healthy options available for home delivery now and its worth searching those out when not able to cook.

Are there any traditional dishes from our Indian roots that we should go back to and incorporate into our diets. 
Yes! Fermented foods are strong in Indian culture but don't necessarily feature at mealtimes in every household. Pickles, kaanji, fermented veggies, properly fermenting home idli batter etc - these are all worth incorporating at every meal!! 

Could you share some diet tips and eating habits that can help in boosting immunity.
My first tip is to focus on eating a wide variety of colourful, whole foods. Think 'eat the rainbow' - whatever colours of fruits and veggies you ate yesterday, try to eat different ones today. Different colours in the skins of different fruits and veggies represent the different phytonutrients that are available in the produce. Missing out colours means missing out crucial nutrients! One fruit or veggie isn't better than the other- in fact its the variety and range that is the key thing. This is a wonderful habit you can inculcate in your children while they are young - keep a weekly rainbow chart where you keep track of what colours you've eaten in a week,and your kids can help plan the menu each day based on picking new colours that haven't yet been eaten. Thinking about food in this way naturally is a gift you can give your children!

My second tip is another one I am very passionate about and teach to people in workshops. It is called mindful eating. It means taking slow breaths before you start eating and between mouthfuls, chewing your food carefully (20-30 chews per mouthful), keeping your hands on the table between bites, until you have swallowed your current  mouthful, and giving thanks and gratitude for the food you have. This helps us to slow down, eat just the right amount and not continuously overeat. This is very important for our overall health and digestion- and our immunity is a function of this. This is a powerful healthful  practice that you can start from the next time you eat after reading this!

My third tip is about hydration - it's boring and nothing new I know- but staying well hydrated throughout the day is so key for our immunity. Eating hydrating foods like cucumber and watermelon, drinking lots of water and on-caffeinated herbal teas can all help you to keep you well hydrated.
Watch this section for more interviews on how to boost your immunity through your diet