Bye-bye blueberry, hello guava: How to go local with superfoods
Superfoods is a hot topic with those who dish out diet advice from time to time. While there’s no clear scientic basis for this classification, it’s generally agreed that foods low in calories and packed with nutrients — antioxidants, polyphenols, vitamins, and minerals – which can fight disease and aid longevity, can be described as superfoods.
The lists of superfoods we often see are borrowed from the West, with the usual suspects making it to the top ten — blueberries, kale, quinoa, salmon, broccoli, and the more exotic goji berries and acai berries. Several of these aren’t even available in India. Those that are, have travelled far, consuming carbon miles. They’re surely past their best by the time you buy them at the gourmet food store and get down to eating them. If they’re imported, they’ll be prohibitively expensive, too.
There’s no need to despair, though, for we have an abundance of indigenous produce that could rightly be termed ‘superfoods’. Remember, too, that when it comes to wellness and food, ancient Indians wrote the book. Here are some common Indian ingredients that make perfect superfoods. So don’t bother with those pricey blueberries.
Have you been shelling out big bucks for quinoa from the gourmet food store? Wondering what to do with it? Far better, add some local millets to your meals. These ancient grains are now enjoying a revival and have been voted wonderfoods. Millets have a high mineral content and a low glycaemic index, making them superior to other staples such as rice and wheat. They are also less damaging to the environment.
Call them soppu, keerai, saag or shaak, the greens bought fresh every day are a key component of the balanced Indian meal. Low-calorie, packed with dietary fibre and folic acid and rich in vitamins and minerals, indigenous greens are known to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. What’s more, they are always cheap. So stop looking for Kale and stir a bunch methi leaves into your dal.
The West has only recently discovered the benefits that lie in the common drumstick, even saying it could be the solution to widespread nutrition deficiencies. So, when you’re eating a drumstick sambar, you’re getting all the benefits that lie in the fleshy pods and seeds. The leaves of the drumstick tree, commonly eaten in the South, are powerhouses of nutrition. They contain 7 times more Vitamin C than oranges and 4 times more Vitamin A than carrots.
Don’t dismiss brinjals as boring. These everyday vegetables – and what a variety of them we have in our markets – come with many benefits, from lowering blood pressure to preventing heart disease. Their purple skins also contain flavonoids which have anti-oxidant properties.
Who’d think that this unglamorous fruit, sold from carts, sprinkled with salt and chilli, could be a superfood? That’s what it is, with its high content of Vitamin C and minerals such as Potassium. A guava can detox your system, calm the nerves and make your skin glow.
Expensive salmon usually figures high on superfood lists. Don’t bother spending big bucks on imported fish that has been long frozen. Turn, instead, to the humble sardine. Sure, it has a strong smell, but remember it’s protein-packed, has very little saturated fat and is high in Vitamin D. A 100 gm serving of sardines can provide you with all the Omega 3 fats you need for a day.
Indians have been using turmeric for everything from curing a cough to purifying the home for centuries. More recently, Western researches have pin-pointed the benefits from its key component – curcumin. Every pinch of turmeric we consume in, say, a curry is good for heart, liver and brain health.
The preferred cooking medium of Kerala has, for long, been given a bad name and a ‘high cholesterol’ tag. Having survived the smear campaign by what seems like the olive oil lobby, coconut oil is now, ironically, being recommended for weight loss among other things. Yes, it’s 100 % fat, but its structure is different from other saturated fats and that’s what makes it so good for you. However, to get the full benefit of coconut oil, it must be virgin coconut oil, cold-pressed. Hydrogenated and refined oils won’t do the trick.
Most lentils and pulses are good for you, moong dal more so. A whole bowl of cooked moong dal contains less than 100 calories, so it’s ideal for weight-watchers. It’s also high in iron and dietary fibre. Moong dal is also known to contain cancer-fighting antioxidants.
Amla is a key ingredient in several Ayurveda cures. Packed with Vitamin C, it’s now recommended for controlling sugar levels, regulating acidity and for boosting the body’s immunity. It’s also a remedy for insomnia and other sleep disorders.
This open letter to Mr. Diet will stop you from grabbing that bucket of fried chicken again!
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