You have probably read about superfoods that will boost your health. Blueberries, kale, almonds, broccoli, sweet potato, goji berries, and many more are roundly praised. While these foods are indeed rich in nutrients, they have been so heavily promoted that now they have a cachet that facilitates their wholesale transportation to markets thousands of miles away.
In this scenario, Rujuta Diwekar’s book Indian Superfoods comes as a breath of fresh air, for she advocates that we rediscover the superfoods from our own cultures and lands.
Diwekar has chosen 10 foods that are quintessentially Indian. Some, like ghee, sugar, and rice, were once highly regarded, but have lately fallen out of favor. Others, like banana, cashew, and coconut are widely consumed and enjoyed, but with some ambivalence about their health benefits. And yet others like kokum, jackfruit, aliv, and ambadi are well kept secrets, known only in their local markets.
Quotes from book
For me superfoods are foods that, like
true love, have stood the test of time.
They have at least these five things in
1. They grow naturally in the same land
2. They are rich in micronutrients and
3. Every part of the crop/plant can be
used in unique ways
4. They encourage diversity in your diet
5. They lead to a sustainable lifestyle,
help the local economy and make sound
Unabashedly, she rescues ghee from its vilification by medical science, and endorses its pride of place as the fat of choice in ayurveda. Ghee helps to reduce blood glucose, break down body fat, is excellent for memory, and is an important part of diet during pregnancy.
Diwekar takes other positions against conventional thinking by promoting rice, especially hand pound or single polished rice. She cites its ease of digestibility, and complete amino acid profile, including an essential amino acid called lysine which promotes restorative sleep. Indeed, these recommendations are consistent with ayurveda. Traditionally, rice is aged and combined with pulses, vegetables, meat, and ghee, which lowers the glycemic index of the meal.
Another controversial food is coconut, which went out of favor because of its high saturated fat content (not cholesterol, which is present only in animal foods). Diwekar counters these doubts, pointing out that the fat is mainly medium chain triglycerides (MCT), which is preferentially used by the body for fuel, thus increasing stamina and endurance. Also, it increases satiety and reduces blood glucose. So there is little reason to avoid this delicious food that lends itself to so much variety in the form of coconut water, tender coconut flesh, dried coconut, coconut milk, and coconut oil.
Diwekar writes in a conversational style, often switching to Hinglish. She is both provocative and persuasive. Although she mentions health benefits both from ayurveda and nutrition science, ultimately her tone is motivational, like that of a gym instructor. “You want a flat stomach, you go ghrtam pibet.” (relish ghee)
The writing is original and sounds authentic because the author shares her own personal relationship with each of these foods. She tells stories about how she learned to cut open a jackfruit and crack a coconut from her grandfathers. She talks about hand pounded and single polished rice grown in her family farm. She explains how she uses kokum to help kids overcome their candy and cola cravings.
This slim volume is also full of traditional recipes and home remedies like making ghee at home, using raw kokum butter as a foot cream, and making laddoos from aliv (garden cress) seeds.
This book is aimed at readers in India with a view to appreciate their own locally grown, traditionally consumed, but sometimes forgotten or misunderstood foods.
So what can readers outside India get from it? Some foods like ghee, rice, sugar, banana, and cashew are widely available wherever you are. Jackfruit is grown in many tropical regions. Ambadi (in Marathi) is a green leafy vegetable that is now grown in California and sold in farmers’ markets as gongura (its Telugu name). Rich in iron and folates, it can be steamed or sautéed into delicious dishes.
But one does not have to be limited to the superfoods listed here, or indeed in any other publication. The most valuable message I got from this book is that superfoods are everywhere. You don’t have to look far to find them. Explore your local farmers’ market, and learn from local tribal cultures about local plants. You will discover plants that thrive in their native climate, have been utilized for ages, and are available fresh to you. This way you support not just your own health, but also local farmers who produce and preserve a diverse number of native and heirloom foods.
Ashok Jethanandani is a graduate of Gujarat Ayurved University, Jamnagar. Jethanandani now practices ayurveda in San Jose. www.classical-ayurveda.com.