We live in an era where mass media is utilized for Mass Interpersonal Persuasion. As early as 1938, Orson Welles caused nationwide panic with his realistic over-the-radio rendition of a Martian invasion of Earth when he narrated War of the Worlds by H.G.Wells. Late-night infomercials are constantly peddling something or the other that you “cannot live without.” We have all received letters in the mail inviting us to a “free dinner” to listen to someone telling us how to lose weight quickly. In most cases, the caveat emptor is that you need to part with your money to reap the benefit of their message. So, it was with a healthy dose of skepticism that I attended a keynote address by Deepa Thomas at the BITSync 2017 conference in San Jose on the topic of “Living well by eating well,” where she presented insights from her book, Deepa’s Secrets.
The keynote featured both Deepa Thomas and her husband, Thampy Thomas (founder, Elxi and NexGen Microsystems). Deepa talked about their journey and how she was able to help Thampy completely recover from an acute diabetic condition (where he was talking insulin shots twice a day for over ten years) purely by eating the right foods. His blood sugar level turned normal in just five days. She simply removed the high carb ingredients of rice and bread, boosted flavors, and rather than eating two or three big meals a day, had him stick to five small meals. This controlled the hunger pangs and the harmful insulin spikes. “We are living in a crucible of plant based food,” she said. “Yet we consume processed food. The secret to good health is to eat food that our grandmothers will recognize,” Deepa added. Her message definitely resonated well with the audience made up of alumni from BITS, Pilani. There was no “catch” in her presentation, since all royalties from the book is to be donated to FoodCorps, a non-profit organization that connects children to healthy food in American schools. I was shocked to learn from Deepa that one out of five kids go to bed (and wake up) hungry in the United States. The mission of FoodCorps is to connect these kids with the skills (and meals) that they need to survive.
The book itself is a part memoir, recounting her early days growing up in Delhi. Every chapter has a theme and an interesting anecdote from her past. This weaving of narrative and kitchen companion tips makes us read the book beginning-to-end as opposed to “referring” to it as one would for a book of recipes.
The book is also a health guide. Deepa borrows from Ayurvedic wisdom–when the diet is right, there is no need for medicine and when the diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. It is hard to get all the experts to agree on a single theory–especially when it comes to food and diet. Deepa’s research on Ayurveda led her to the conclusion that all illnesses originate from an unhealthy gut. Therefore, using ingredients that are gut-healthy makes them diabetes friendly and heart healthy. These include whole grains, plant-based, unprocessed and unrefined food.
Traditional Indian food is rich and flavorful; preparing the food however is labor intensive. Also, the food is high in carbohydrates. All this has led India to become the “Diabetes capital of the World.” In this book, Deepa advocates for “New Indian cooking,” whose foundations are not labor-intensive, yet delicious and flavorful, without the carbohydrates. In a sense, these are her “secrets.” Her focus is on foods with grains, legumes, vegetables; her boost of flavor comes from herb and spice blends; and her tricks to shorten preparation and cooking times combine to provide healthy, flavorful foods that can be prepared quickly.
One example of the contrast between traditional Indian and New Indian recipes can be found in the recipe, “Ralph’s Garlicky Spinach a la Dal.” Traditionally, dal (or lentils) is cooked to a pulp and spinach is cooked to a browner shade of green. In this version, the dal is cooked al dente (or cooked firm to the bite) and the baby spinach is closer to a salad. The crowning flavor of Gremolata lifts the flavor of this dish.
One more “feature” of New Indian cooking is that it is “slow carb.” This pays particular attention to which carbs are being cut. Slow carbs are digested and release energy more slowly. Hence, they are better for you. This helps to ward off hunger pangs.
When the book features non-vegetarian recipes, Deepa is almost apologetic to mention, “Vegetarians, don’t leave me. You can substitute tofu or bulk up the vegetables. You won’t want to miss out on the flavor of these recipes!”
There is the old adage that you can either eat to live or live to eat. By following the recipes and using healthy ingredients mentioned in Deepa’s Secrets, you can have the best of both worlds. With its rich pictures and lavish design, this visual cookbook with healing recipes is a must have for every coffee table – except that this book is more likely to be dog eared at the kitchen table.
Prakash Narayan is a software engineer and has been living in Silicon Valley for over 20 years. His twitter handle is @kpn320.