What comes to your mind when you think of superfoods?
Unlike what they sound, superfoods are not artificial foods that impart superhuman strength to people. The origin of the term ‘superfoods’ has no scientific background. It is mainly a marketing term that came to life considering the growing interest of the people in health and wellness.
So what are superfoods? Superfoods are nutrient-rich, natural ingredients that provide greater health benefits over other foods. They are loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other essential nutrients that help the body. In simple words, superfoods offer maximum nutritional benefits for minimum calories.
Due to extensive research on the subject, the list of superfoods keeps changing every year. While most of them rave about western foods such as kale, blueberry, and avocados, there are several lesser-known alternatives that are commonly available in India.
Long before the idea of superfoods hit us, our grandmothers knew exactly what was healthy and beneficial for our health. Several conventional Indian foods have been in use for thousands of years because of their impressive nutritional profile and therapeutic benefits.
Before we take a look at them, let’s understand how including superfoods in our diet can help us.
Benefits of Superfoods
The emergence of chronic diseases has forced us to take a hard look at our dietary patterns. Studies show that along with elevating our overall health, superfoods can protect us against degenerative diseases like diabetes, osteoporosis, and cancer.
When consumed along with a balanced diet, superfoods improve heart health and promote weight loss. They act against bad bacteria and have antioxidant properties that slow down ageing.
Superfoods are also rich in fiber, a nutrient that is lacking in most diets today. Including them in the diet helps reach the daily recommended value of fiber and keeps digestive problems at bay.
Consuming superfoods is a great way to fill the nutritional gap caused by our modern-day busy lifestyle and live through the day with energy and vitality.
5 Commonly Found Indian Superfoods to Include in Your Diet
1. Makhana or Lotus Seeds
Makhanas or lotus seeds, which are the popped seeds of water lily plants, are now gaining popularity for their health and weight-loss benefits. The small puffed balls are low in fat and are rich sources of carbohydrates, proteins and fibre; a combination that is helpful for weight loss and better digestion.
Makhanas are a great addition to mineral-deficient diets as they carry abundant amounts of magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron and zinc. This comes with a plethora of health benefits such as good heart health, anti-ageing, reducing inflammation, diabetes control, relieving infertility, and maintaining healthy kidneys and spleen.
When researchers used crushed fox nuts to substitute all-purpose flour to prepare cookies, they found that the cookies had lower moisture and fat content. Fox Nut flour is a gluten-free and healthier option over refined flour and it’s long term health benefits cannot be overruled.
How to include Makhana in your diet?
Dried Lotus seeds can be soaked overnight and added to soups, salads, curries and other dishes. For weight loss, replace chips with healthy roasted makhanas as they are low in calories and help satiate hunger pangs.
2. Ghee or Clarified Butter
Wait, ghee? Isn’t ghee supposed to make us fat?
Ghee has been used in Ayurveda for over a thousand years for its therapeutic properties. In olden days, ghee was predominantly used as a base for administering herbal remedies for various ailments.
Earlier ghee was suspected to be a reason for bad cholesterol and heart problems. But extensive scientific research indicates that moderate consumption of ghee does not show any harmful effects on the heart and blood vessels.
A baffling study on a rural population in India showed a significantly lower prevalence of coronary heart disease in men who consumed higher amounts of ghee. Moreover, the consumption of ghee led to significant improvements in patients’ with psoriasis symptoms.
These positive research findings support the beneficial effects of ghee outlined in the ancient Ayurvedic texts and makes it worthy of the coveted ‘superfood’ title.
How to include ghee in your diet?
1 or 2 tbsp of ghee is considered a healthy serving for the day. Consuming 1 tbsp ghee on an empty stomach is soothing for the body and helps in cell rejuvenation and healing. Ghee can also be added to your breakfast and meals to reap its benefits.
3. Amla or Gooseberry
Like Ghee, Amla is an old player in the Ayurvedic space. The word Amla is derived from the Sanskrit word “amlaki” which means “the sustainer”.
Amla is used in two most popular Ayurvedic formulas “Triphala” and “Chyawanprash”. While Triphala detoxifies and nourishes the body, Chyavanprash is known to rejuvenate and strengthen it. Amla is rich in vitamin C and other vital vitamins that are important to our nervous system, immune system, skin and hair.
An interesting study shows how amla can be beneficial in weight loss. Among two groups of test subjects, one group was served 60 kCals of amla for evening snack and the other group was served sweets of the same calories. It was observed that the subjects who consumed amla ate less food at night as compared to the group that had sweets.
How to include Amla in your diet?
If you don’t mind the sourness, it is best to eat them raw. You can also add amla to fruit salads and cereals so that the taste blends well. Other popular options are sun dried amla candy, amla juice, amla pickle and chutney.
The food that is commonly available is also one that is easily sidelined. Coconut is an unsung hero that has been silently saving millions of lives around the world.
An excerpt from NDTV clearly states the connection between coconut oil and heart health. Until the 1980s, despite large amounts of coconut consumption, heart disease rate in Sri Lanka was the lowest in the world i.e. only 1 out of every 10,000 was suffering from a heart condition. Over the past decade, heart disease rates have gone up as coconut oil is replaced by refined vegetable oil.
Besides improving heart health, coconut kills disease-causing bacteria, helps diabetics by slowing down sugar release into the bloodstream and boosts body metabolism. This superfood also carries the potential to prevent strokes and brain disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
How to include Coconuts in your diet?
Coconut water is a tasty and nutrient rich alternative over sugary drinks. Try replacing refined sugar with coconut sugar for its health benefits. Coconut milk and virgin coconut oil can be added to curries and sweets. Other options include dessicated coconut (naariyal buraada), coconut chips and spreads. You would want to consume coconut based products in moderation to keep the calorie count under control.
If you are looking for a better alternative over quinoa, millets are your best bet. Thanks to the superfood bandwagon, people are now realising the health benefits of these grains that were once called old-fashioned.
Replacing refined flour with millet flour improves the digestive system and keeps one full longer. Sorgham (Jowar), Finger Millet (Ragi) and Pearl Millet (Bajra) are easily available in the supermarkets and are better nutrient sources over rice and wheat.
Millet crops grow in low rainfall regions as they need less water. The crop is completely organic as it doesn’t require pesticides and fertilizers for support. Millets have an excellent shelf life and can be stored for upto two years.
How to include Millets in your diet?
Millet flour is commonly used to make rotis in several parts of the country. When you use refined flour, try replacing 30% of it with millet flour for added health benefits. Millets can also be used to make cereal porridge, idli, dosas and upma.
Eating a Well Balanced Diet
No single food can provide every single nutrient our body needs in the exact amount needed. So it is best that we eat a combination of healthy foods, all of which balance each other out.
The title ‘superfoods’ may cause some people to excessively focus on a few specific foods, blinding them to other equally nutritious options that aren’t as hyped.
By eating a balanced diet we not only get the essential vitamins and minerals, but also prevent eating too much or too less of a particular nutrient. Importantly, variety in our diet keeps our meals interesting and flavorful!
This article was originally published on the Nummy blog on September 1, 2020.