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Ms. Ishi Khosla is a practicing clinical nutritionist, columnist, author, a researcher and an entrepreneur. She is actively involved in clinical practice at the Centre For Dietary Counselling in Delhi and has spearheaded the launch of the first of its kind health food company “Whole Foods India”. She’s authored several books, including Eating at Work, The Diet Doctor, Is Wheat Killing You? and The Cholesterol Facts. She has been nominated as a member of the Programme Advisory Committee, Doordarshan Kendra; is a member of the Governing Body of Lady Irwin College, Delhi University; and is a consultant to several corporate and multinational organizations. 

She has been felicitated by the President of India for work in the field of nutrition. She has also been listed among the 25 most powerful women in the country by the India Today Group.

Having spent the last 30 years focusing on the functional aspects of food in treating chronic health problems that we have faced, I have to say that it is for the first time in my professional experience that the word ‘I’, yes, the Almighty immunity has been spoken of at such a global scale. Immunity is being sold” by every brand, every food label and even toilet cleaners are being tagged with immune benefits …..

This was possibly inevitable & fast coming- the aggressive pace at which our food production & consumption have grown & changed. It is only natural that in the times of a health crisis, the entire world is pausing to, in fact, reflecting on what we are actually putting “inside our bodies” 

Pick up any prescription of a patient fighting COVID-19 today and you will see what I am talking about in bold ink – Vitamins D, C + Zinc and Magnesium even probiotics – some of these elements have become the salient factors in fighting the pandemic across the world. A review & meta-analysis published in the Frontier of public health this year showed an exceptionally high mortality among patients in ICU who have Vitamin D levels less than 20 ng/ ml . Evidence indicates that vitamin D helps by preventing the cytokine storm and subsequent acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS ) which is commonly the cause of mortality. In addition a low Vitamin-D level was associated with an 80 percent higher risk of COVID-19 infection compared to those with normal levels.

If we zone in to the latest research we need to recognise the fact that our gut has a mind of its own with the underlying microbiome.

It was already estimated in the year 2011, that around two billion people in the world are deficient in one or more micronutrients. A review & meta analysis done in Singapore published in Nutrients in May 2021 clearly states that absence of micronutrient deficiency is strongly associated with lowered risk of infection & better outcomes among COVID-19 patients & that it offers a cost effective preventive & therapeutic approach for the pandemic. Several programmes have been launched over the years in India to improve nutrition and health status of the population; however, a large portion of the population is still affected by micronutrient deficiency. When linked with food allergies, the connection becomes even clearer – to give you all an example from my area of expertise – wheat-related disorders like Celiac Disease which have gone up by Five Fold since 1974 (that’s roughly in the last 50 years) (Annals of Medicine) such diseases are associated with multiple micronutrient deficiencies due to malabsorption, high inflammation and lower immunity; most common nutritional deficiencies include iron, calcium, folate, Vitamin B-12. Ample research has also shown that iron deficiency anaemia can affect our  immune system – the body’s natural defence system. This increases our vulnerability to infection. But it has taken a global health catastrophe to shine light on this underlying issue that is affecting us in more ways than we know and there’s never been a better time in history to establish the importance of food and nutrition in bridging the gap when it comes to being future-ready as a country to fight for better health. 

If we zone in to the latest research we need to recognise the fact that our gut has a mind of its own with the underlying microbiome. More than 70% of our immune system resides in our gut, so it is obvious that for maintaining a resilient immune system, we need to have the right gut composition of pro and prebiotics. The focus has been to constantly reduce systemic chronic & acute inflammation through anti-inflammatory agents like Ginger, Turmeric, Giloy, Tulsi, Honey and other Phytonutrients available in brightly coloured fruits and vegetables and healthy fats like Omega-3 and medium chain triglycerides in virgin coconut oil. By simply cutting down pro-inflammatory agents from our diets like chemical additives, trans fats and allergens plus reducing sugars and high glycemic carbohydrates ( most cereals & refined carbohydrates ) we can really make a lot of difference in fighting health issues. 

Truth of the matter remains that prescriptive advice only makes sense in times of adversity when it’s often too late, when the fight is already underway and a lot has to be done.

Truth of the matter remains that prescriptive advice only makes sense in times of adversity when it’s often too late, when the fight is already underway and a lot has to be done. Preventative health continues to be a buzz word in a country like ours where lifestyle related disorders are growing at a super high pace and are expected to cross 1 billion cases by 2022.

It has to start much earlier, this entire process of awareness and the responsibility lies equally in all our worlds – right from agricultural practices, soil quality to fortification, biodiversity, introduction of alternate grains & millets , manufacturing practices , waste management, positive labelling to disseminating the right information. There are so many glorious examples of best practices we can look upto to address some of the issues we are facing today. Addressing Vitamin D deficiency through food fortification in the West (and in India), supplying probiotic shots of fermented milk to citizens of Japan to fight gut infections at scale under Dr Minoru Shirota since 1935 , the innovation of FOSHU and FFC ( foods & functional claims ) system of labelling health claims  in Japan , elimination of pro-inflammatory trans fatty acids  started in Denmark, Canada and New York. 

I, in my own small way, have taken the opportunity in the past to not only preach but showcase a model to manufacture and retail safe foods, high on nutrients and functional foods free of undesirable constituents like chemical additives, trans fats using healthy ingredients, apart from this the allergen free foods including gluten and dairy free, and more. Among the first of its kind food company Wholefoods started as a home kitchen outfit, expanded to have presence in some of the leading hospitals across the NCR region. It clearly established to me and my colleagues that there is an appetite for health if delivered in a sound holistic manner. 

It is time for collective action, integrated  thinking and innovative solutions to find ways that can actually work for the people and the planet. Coming together of all stakeholders  with a shared vision will ensure that the ultimate goal of ending all forms of malnutrition and nutritional security is achieved and we need not have to wait for a pandemic to build a robust immune system. It is the only sound investment to build a healthy population that will eventually pave the way for a healthy nation.

InnoHEALTH magazine digital team

Author InnoHEALTH magazine digital team

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