It is possible to grow into good health slowly, says lifestyle expert Luke Coutinho

It is possible to grow into good health slowly, says lifestyle expert Luke Coutinho

Small steps could go a long way in building immunity shares lifestyle doyen, Luke Coutinho in an interview with Business Today.

Small steps could go a long way in building immunity shares lifestyle doyen, Luke Coutinho in an interview with Business Today. Small steps could go a long way in building immunity shares lifestyle doyen, Luke Coutinho in an interview with Business Today.

For most, post-Covid-19, it is time for a health reboot. One does not regain health overnight. How to get the right balance between work, life, nutrition, sleep? Small steps could go a long way in building immunity, shares lifestyle doyen, Luke Coutinho, in an interview with Business Today.

BT: Many people have been unwell over the last two years. Some have got Covid once, some even twice. How does one regain health and vigour now?  

Luke Coutinho: Some people got Covid once, and some people got it twice or thrice. Even if they got Covid, some have recovered with minimal medical intervention and some are still struggling with long Covid symptoms. Immunity is a key factor that plays a role in the prevention and recovery from Covid. So, the priority is immunity - the first and last line of defence. Boosting immunity requires a broader approach beyond immunity-boosting foods. Immunity-boosting foods work, but never alone. It has to be in combination with adequate exercise and movement, quality sleep every night, and emotional detoxification. Talking specifically about nutrition, building immunity doesn’t mean buying expensive supplements (although that might be necessary in cases where food isn’t enough). You can build your immunity with basic natural foods that might be already lying in your kitchen. Simple, balanced meals cooked the right way with the right quality of ingredients, oils, and a variety of spices serve to boost immunity. Talking about which food can suppress immunity? Well, Sugar is the no.1 killer of immunity and this is for kids as well as adults. When just a can of aerated drink can suppress your immunity to almost 50 per cent for the next 5-6 hours, imagine how daily consumption of sugar is killing our immunity slowly. Not only sugar, but any processed food turns out to be the biggest health hazard.

Top immunity-boosting foods: 

● Spices: ginger, garlic, turmeric, black pepper, cumin, fenugreek, fennel,

● Herbs: oregano, tulsi, lemongrass, rosemary,

● Fruits: pomegranate, guava, mango, grapes, lemons, oranges.

● Vegetables: drumsticks, pumpkin, sweet potato, chemical free- leafy greens, cruciferous


● Micronutrients: Zinc, selenium, Vitamin D3, vitamin E, iron, B- vitamin, Vitamin C

● Probiotics: Yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, rice kanji, kombucha, pickles

● Prebiotics: Apple, apple cider vinegar, garlic, asparagus

● All nuts and seeds

● Coconut oil, A2 cow ghee

BT: There are a dozen fad diets out there but for those who travel a lot or have demanding schedules which do not permit routine, following strict diets are often a problem. What is a solution for this?  

Luke Coutinho: We work with corporates across the world, and while some individuals struggle with eating the right food and at the right time, some manage it well. It is all about what your priorities are. People who have prioritized their health find a way to manage not just nutrition, but exercise and sleep too. Of course, there are several tips and strategies to make it easier, but the will to do it matters the most.

Small, micro-habits over a period of time are supposed to create big results – what small changes can you suggest people adopt in diet and lifestyle? Absolutely. It is all about small wins every day. For example: if working out for five days a week sounds difficult for you, can you at least get in a 10-minute walk post breakfast, lunch and dinner? Can you at least eat home-cooked food five out of seven days in a week? One must never forget the power of compounding and that small steps add up to big results.  

Simple changes that people can start making in their diet and lifestyle are: 

● Aiming to eat a rainbow or differently coloured fruits and vegetables

● Take a 5-10 minute walk, 30 minutes post breakfast, lunch, and dinner

● Eat an early dinner, and try to fast for a minimum of 12 hours from dinner to the next day’s meal.

● No matter what you choose to eat, slow down and chew well.

● Finding it difficult to get into an entire yoga practice? Try one asana a day.

● Switch off your gadgets at least an hour before sleep

● Dedicate at least five minutes to abdominal breathing every day.

● Make a playlist and listen to music that inspires you

● If news and social media stresses you out, cut away from the source itself

● Lastly, consistency. Pick whichever habit you wish to inculcate, but be consistent. Nothing great is achieved without consistency. 


BT: How important is it detox on a regular basis and what is a good approach to detox?  

Luke Coutinho: Our bodies have been designed to detox itself. We have a beautiful and intelligent elimination process comprising five organs - colon, kidneys, liver, skin and lungs. Ideally, we do not have to do things to detox ourselves. It's when any one of these symptoms gets clogged or sluggish, we need to assist the detoxification process. This is where cleanses help. For example, in an individual who regularly drinks alcohol, we know their liver is sluggish because it's burdened with toxins. That is when a liver cleanse becomes necessary and useful. An individual who lives a clean and balanced lifestyle does not smoke or, passive smoke, sleeps and exercises regularly - does not need to go out of their way to detox. The body is already doing its job. But for someone who eats outside food, is sedentary, indulges in smoking and drinking, is taking heavy medication, might need to give their bodies some assistance with a detox plan. The beauty is our body gives us signals when it needs a cleanse or break. Mind fog, lethargy, sluggishness, fatigue, skin breakouts without any reason, stubborn fat, headaches - are signs that your body might benefit from cleanse.

A good approach to cleanse: 

While there are personalised and specialised cleanse plans our integrative team of experts design after understanding an individual's case history and lifestyle, by far the simplest and most natural way to cleanse is to - fast.  Fasting done the right way is therapeutic. It can help cleanse our body at all levels - physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and intellectual. The most natural fast that has worked for so many of our patients is the circadian rhythm fast, where one eats the last meal of the day close to sunset, fasts through the night and breaks it the next day after sunrise. Fasting gives your digestive system a break. Your digestive system utilises almost 80 per cent of your body's energy. So, when digestive processes are paused for a brief period of time, all of the energy is channeled into cleansing, detoxification, repair, recovery and rejuvenation. Fasting respects our body’s inbuilt elimination and building phase.

BT: We live in a world full of visual triggers. Screen time has increased and social media has become both a boon and bane. How important is it to unplug?  

Luke Coutinho: More than we actually know. So many of us are constantly moving from one screen (laptops and desktops) to another (mobile phones, ipads) throughout the day, not realising the amount of damage it's doing to our mind, brain and overall health.

First, our happiness. So many of us have given away our power to social media to determine how we should look like, what clothes we should wear, how an ideal skin and figure should look, how relationships should be and so much more. The moment we see someone else’s life (which is mostly fake), we tend to start comparing our lives with theirs and start feeling inadequate. We must never forget then when we compare, we usually compare the worst parts of our lives with the best parts of someone else, which may not even be real. 

Second, social media and too much screen time eat into our precious time. When we coach our patients, many complain that they do not have the time to workout or prepare meals. And when we look into their schedule, we realize they spend 5-6 hours on social media which could otherwise be used to work on themselves. So a lack of time is clearly not the problem, but lack of time management is. Social media is a time drainer.

Third, sleep. The blue light emitting from these artificial screens can interfere with our sleep patterns in a big way. Sleep is a light-sensitive process. In addition to that, social media is a stimulant. It stimulates our brain, where what we should be engaging in before sleep is relaxing and unwinding activities.

BT: It is of everyone’s concern now to build immunity. What food variety should people bank on to build immunity?  

Luke Coutinho: There is no one food that can help build immunity. Immunity is multi-factorial and it requires a multi-factorial approach. When it comes to food, our body doesn't need anything fancy. It's the basics like whole grains, lentils, legumes, pulses, millets, nuts, seeds, cold pressed oils, prebiotics, probiotics, fruits and vegetables.

My favorite immunity boosting foods are:  

●Garam masala


●Khichdi (rice and lentil mix)

●Amla (Indian gooseberry)

●Loose black tea leaves and good quality coffee

●Local and seasonal fruits

●Cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens

●Chickpeas and sattu (one can make a drink out of it too)

●Nuts and seeds

●Cold pressed good quality oils

●Basic Indian spices like turmeric, black pepper, cinnamon, jeera, ajwain, fennel

●Herbs like thyme, oregano, rosemary

●A2 Gir cow ghee

Every country, state, religion, region has its own set of powerful foods that are known to improve immunity, and we must because these are gifts of nature. My team and I handle patients across the globe, but a large number of our patients are Indians. Therefore, I can vouch for the power that lies in the foods listed above. Having said that, having these foods is only one piece of the puzzle. The focus on immunity has to be holistic.

BT: How important is it to adopt good sleep hygiene?  

Luke Coutinho: Discipline is where it all starts when it comes to sleep hygiene. The next is having a disconnect from the day time chaos and preparing yourself for sleep. This is why sleep rituals are important. Some of the most powerful sleep rituals are:

●Eat an early dinner

●Switch off all your gadgets at least an hour before sleep

●Dim the lights, and when you are about to sleep, make your room pitch dark

●Avoid any disturbing conversations just before sleep

●Use the time just before bed to practice gratitude, reflect on your day, say your prayers, make love, spend time with loved ones, meditate and set your intentions for the next day.

●In case you struggle with over-thinking and feel like you are carrying too many thoughts to your bed, journal it down. It is always better to pen down your thoughts so you can empty your mind.

Another small yet significant change is to taper your water intake after sunset, as a lot of it can lead to frequent visits to the restroom in the middle of the night and that could disturb your sleep quality.

BT: Is there any miracle mantra for a morning routine to set the course right?  

Luke: The closer our lifestyles are to nature, the healthier we are, because all of us are products of nature. By far, the most ideal way to start our day involves being in alignment with the circadian rhythm. This is how it looks like -

● Avoid switching on your gadgets at least for an hour after waking up

● Connect with nature (sunlight, fresh air, plants, greenery) first thing in the morning

● Get fresh and get in some form of movement either through a walk, stretching or Surya Namaskar

● Avoid coffee at least the first 2-3 hours of the day after waking up

Besides this, one can also engage in some morning breathing exercises, set intentions for the day, or practice positive affirmations.

A morning routine might look different for each individual, but the idea is to make the most out of your sacred hour and ground yourself, before getting sucked into social media, the internet, and work.


BT: What could be an ideal power breakfast for today’s busy professionals and entrepreneurs?  

Luke Coutinho: Quite contrary to what we were made to believe, breakfast is not the most important meal of the day. Eat if you are hungry, and get a balanced and substantial breakfast, but if you aren't, do not stuff yourself. So many of us do not wake up feeling hungry the first few hours of the day, and that is absolutely okay. This means our body is still in the elimination phase. When it is truly ready to receive nutrition, it will tell you. This is not starvation, but mindful eating. And, we must respect our body’s hunger and satiety cues. There is no ideal breakfast, as each of us is different and our needs are different. Some people do great with just raw - fruits, nuts, and seeds, and some need a cooked breakfast.

With that said, as a general rule, avoid starting your day with foods that are high in sugar or refined carbohydrates, as that can throw your sugar levels out of whack, and make you feel hungry throughout the day.  In our practice, we see many people start their day with tea or coffee on an empty stomach. This is not the ideal way. It can create acidity and mess up our cortisol and circadian rhythms. Drink these beverages if you have to, but not on empty stomach. Eat your fruit, breakfast (if you may), and then enjoy your coffee. It's best to consume these beverages after 2-3 hours of waking up and never on an empty stomach.

(Luke Coutinho, Founder, LCHHS practices in the field of Holistic Nutrition - Integrative & Lifestyle Medicine)

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