By Anupama Bhattacharya
You can supplement your regular diet with super health foods that not only provide complete nourishment but also have healing and rejuvenating properties
If you aren’t one of those health freaks, the number of super health foods flooding the market might take you by surprise-more so when you come across their exotic names and claims.
But what, you may ask, are super health foods? ‘I would define super health food as complete nutrition,’ says Natarajan Sundaram, director of Transtech Engineers & Exporters which markets spirulina in India, under the brand name Progen. That seems to be it. However, super health foods also act as a food supplement, providing all necessary nutrients and keeping you fit and add to your overall well-being. Many of them have been introduced in recent times and all their healing and rejuvenating properties are not even well charted.
India’s Nature Cure and Yoga Health Center at New Delhi’s Lajpat Bhavan sells a variety of organic food items. ‘The demand for health foods is growing. The only problem is the availability of super health foods like tofu whose Indian counterparts don’t taste as good,’ says Himmat Singh, manager of the center. Tofu? ‘It is soybean curd,’ he explains helpfully and points to a loaf that looks like cottage cheese, but is less white.
Kunal Kumar, director of New Delhi’s Modern Bazaar which has a separate section for super health foods, echoes the sentiment: ‘Some items like ginseng are priced rather steep. Yet, there is a continuous demand for these food supplements.’
There are many brands of health foods in the market, but the choice for super health foods is limited to six products: spirulina, ginseng, wheatgrass, alfalfa, tofu and Manchurian mushrooms.
A highly nutritious form of algae, spirulina has been lauded by Japanese scientists as a panacea for various health conditions and as the solution to world’s hunger problem. Research is also being conducted on its use as food supplement for astronauts.
Believed to be one of the first forms of life on earth that originated nearly 3.5 billion years ago, spirulina is a veritable powerhouse of nutrition that has been in use since the prehistoric times, especially among the Aztecs and the tribes near Lake Chad in Africa. ‘United Nations’ World Food Conference has declared spirulina as the best food for tomorrow,’ says Anil Vanjani, executive director of Lucky Laboratories, a sister concern of Dabur, the ayurvedic pharmaceutical company of India, which sells spirulina under the brand name Sunova Spirulina. ‘It has also the approval of the Food and Drug Authority of the USA for being sold as a natural food,’ he adds. Many New Agers believe that spirulina is actually the manna which the Hebrews ate in the desert.
Research has proved that 1 kg of spirulina is equivalent to 1,000 kg of assorted vegetables. It also has six times more protein than eggs and 20 times more than milk. It is the richest source of iron and beta-carotene, as well as vitamin B12 and has every essential amino acid besides enzymes and minerals.
Spirulina helps prevent heart problems, diabetes and anemia, and fights free radicals. This wonder algae also helps overcome stress and improves stamina and immunity.
‘The best part of spirulina is that it has no harmful side effects and an overdose can cause as much problem as overeating,’ says Sundaram. He adds that spirulina is essential for those who cannot avail of a balanced diet and infants who can’t be breastfed. ‘In fact, it is still used as a survival food during severe drought conditions by tribes at the southern edge of the Sahara desert. Spirulina is also recommended for children till they are five years old for the proper development of the brain and immune system,’ he informs.
Spirulina is easily available in India under many brand names, the most prominent being Lucky Laboratories’ Sunova Spirulina, Transtech’s Progen and Berko Cyanotech’s LifePlus Spirulina. The other brand names under which spirulina is sold are Natoxid, Multinals and Super Inspiro. It is available as powder, flakes or tablet. Organic spirulina is available with Kavita Mukhi’s alternative store Nature Option in Mumbai, India.
A group of closely related herbs that grow in China, Siberia, Korea and North America, ginseng is the single most famous and widely used herbal food supplement. Chinese medicine, which continues to be popular, attributed to it not only healing properties but also an ability to invigorate and prolong life.
Ginseng is a shrub with a very large root system. It contains two groups of glycosides-paraquat and panaxin—which help the body correct itself. Though it is not known to cure any specific diseases and many western scientists still attribute its effectiveness to power of suggestion, it is considered one of the complete food supplements for overall well being.
Considered a yang (male) plant, ginseng is said to have aphrodisiac properties. The root has been processed into a variety of palatable forms such as capsules and tea.
Research on ginseng by scientists has shown that it also acts as a stress reliever. As a result, ginseng is being promoted as an adaptogen—an agent that increases overall resistance to the adverse effects of stress.
Efforts to locate ginseng led to Modern Bazaar, New Delhi, India, where two small bottles were standing out against an array of various food supplements. Foreign-made, they were priced rather steeply at Rs 1,100 for 30 capsules.
Though no Indian company is marketing pure ginseng, Dabur, the ayurvedic pharmaceutical company, makes ashwagandha, or the Indian ginseng due to its similar properties, under the brand name Stresscom. ‘It acts as an immuno modulator as well as helps in anxiety problems,’ says Abhinav Rahul, a spokesperson of Dabur.
If there is a power drink, it must be wheatgrass juice. With chlorophyll, beta carotene, more than 80 minerals, 18 amino acids and many vitamins, research has shown that 1 kg of wheatgrass matches the nutritional value of 22 kg of ordinary garden vegetables.
Wheatgrass is generally consumed as juice which is a complete food with regenerative and protective qualities. Its regular use improves perception and increases mental and emotional calmness. It aids in digestion, prevents graying of hair, skin diseases, asthma, arthritis and diabetes. In fact, because of its blood purifying qualities, wheatgrass is used in the treatment of leukemia and some other forms of cancer.
The normal dosage of wheatgrass juice is 25 to 50 gm twice a day on an empty stomach. It can be extracted from wheatgrass in a juicer. One disadvantage is that it cannot be stored and has to be consumed immediately. Wheatgrass can also be chewed and the pulp discarded. Though it is difficult to find wheatgrass or its juice in the market, some rare clinics do sell wheatgrass capsules.
You can easily grow your own wheatgrass at home. All you have to do is soak wheat in a jar of water for 12 hours, drain out the water and leave the moist seeds as they are for another 12 hours. Next, spread a one-inch layer of soil in a tray, spread the seeds, sprinkle water, cover it with another tray and leave for three days. Uncover the tray, sprinkle water, and leave it in direct sunlight for five days at the end of which you’ll have five to eight inches tall wheatgrass.
The Herbalist Almanac of the Indiana Botanic Gardens, USA, says of alfalfa: ‘We believe no other single plant in the vast vegetable kingdom contains so many health giving properties as are contained in the alfalfa herb—the richest land grown source of nutritional trace minerals.’ Alfalfa is rich in potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, chlorine and silicon—all perfectly balanced. It also contains vitamins A, B, D, E and G, proteins and some important amino acids without any fat content. Alfalfa is also highly alkaline which works wonders for problems like fatigue and tension. It strengthens the heart muscles, relieves arthritis, lowers blood pressure and provides complete nutrition for the body.
For those prone to catching infections, alfalfa is ideal. Its ability to build up the body’s immune system is quite phenomenal. Its absorbable iron makes it a boon for anemia and its calcium prevents dental decay. The high chlorophyll content in alfalfa makes it an elixir of youth.
Alfalfa can be consumed in many forms. The juice of fresh alfalfa leaves can be taken with carrot juice and helps hair growth. The tea made of its seeds is delicious and is recommended for arthritis. All you have to do is cook the seeds in an enamel or glass pan for half an hour, strain the liquid and add honey. Take this tea four to five times a day. It can also be refrigerated for two days. Alfalfa sprouts are very rich in nutrients.
Alfalfa seeds are available in most health food shops, especially Seed, an organic products shop in The Park hotel in New Delhi, India. ‘We also store all kinds of health foods grown naturally,’ says Madhu Monga, consultant at the shop.
Also known as bean curd or soy cheese, tofu is low in cholesterol and calories, and high in protein and vitamins. It is a complete food supplement that can be consumed without any worry of side effects, unlike cottage cheese. It is prepared by soaking soy beans overnight and then putting the contents through a machine designed for making tofu.
‘Tofu has worked wonders for my high blood pressure,’ says Ashok Kumar Gupta, Chief of the Indian Oil Corporation (Lub). His son Amitabh, who is the regional director of Pro Soya & Corp, a Canadian company that is planning to market tofu making machines and soy products in India, echoes his father’s sentiments: ‘Tofu can be a substitute for dairy products. Very few people are aware that 33 per cent of Indians are lactose intolerant and hence should stay away from dairy products.’
Tofu can be eaten as it is, mixed with salads, fried or prepared in almost any way you prepare cottage cheese. Modern Bazaar stocks imported canned tofu. It can also be bought from Nature Option. The tofu making machines marketed by Pro Soya & Corp. will soon be available with Faridabad-based SSP Pvt Ltd.
Originally from Manchuria, these super energizing mushrooms are not commercially available and hence cannot be bought. The only way you can get hold of one is to locate somebody who has it and get him to gift part of it to you.
‘Basically it is yeast therapy,’ says Rohini Singh, a food writer who has been using it for some time. ‘It is good for the eyes, hair, skin. It raises your energy level and helps those suffering from diabetes.’ It also helps you attain immunity from common ailments, claims General R.P. Singh, who has been reaping the benefits of Manchurian mushrooms for over a year now. ‘I had to undergo a series of surgeries. These mushrooms helped me recuperate faster. I have also grown immune to attacks of common colds and virus,’ says he.
This mushroom is fermented by pouring tea over it, and then the potion—called kombucha—is consumed. A half cup in the morning can cure you of muscular aches, constipation, acidity, bronchial asthma, allergies, kidney problems, catarrh, ulcers and obesity. The mushroom continues to grow layers while it is in the tea solution. So you can go on distributing this gift of health to all who come your way.
There are a myriad health foods which complement the regular diet, provide nourishment for the body and fight disease. They can be in the form of herbs, cereals, fruits, concoctions or any other blend of natural ingredients. Following are some of the more effective of these health foods.
A compact food package, muesli is made from various combinations of oats, barley, corn or wheat with nuts, fresh berries, honey and milk along with some other edibles for taste. Since it contains both oats and wheat, it is a rich source of soluble as well as insoluble fibers where oats lowers blood cholesterol level, benefits diabetics, controls weight and prevents constipation and gastro-intestinal disorders, and wheat helps in digestion, reduces risks of colon cancer, prevents heart problems and varicose veins.
Hindi film actress Waheeda Rehman created her own recipe of muesli when she found that her children were skipping breakfast, sick of the utter lack of imagination that went into it. Soon, her neighbors and friends began to ask for the recipe and the lady ultimately launched her own brand of muesli in the market.
However, the most popular brand in India is marketed by New Delhi-based Bagrrys India Ltd. which also sells oat flour, germinated wheat bran and oat bran. ‘Since we are the only producers of oat bran in India, our muesli has a better fiber content,’ says Vijai Kapoor, marketing manager of Bagrrys. ‘Muesli can be consumed by people of all age-groups and has no harmful side effects,’ he adds. Apart from Bagrrys, another Indian company that sells muesli is the Mumbai-based Express Foods. These products can be found in almost all department stores.
Corn is a staple diet in many countries and has for long been available as corn flakes, another ready-to-eat nutritious breakfast cereal. Corn is high in phosphorus, zinc, fat and carotene. Corn flakes are usually a blend of corn, sugar, malt extract, salt, vitamins, iron and anti-oxidants and can improve concentration, beat fatigue and prevent anemia. Though corn flakes are being marketed in India by many companies, the major players are without doubt Kellogg’s and Mohan Meakins.
Honey lowers blood pressure, acts as a sedative, and if taken with hot milk, cures constipation and prevents coughs and colds. Since it has almost all the necessary minerals in correct proportions, as well as vitamins, honey is an extremely nutritious food. It also kills bacteria more effectively than any antibiotics. For greater effectiveness, Chandigarh-based Indian company, Honey Bee has brought out honey products combined with herbs and flowers such as amla(gooseberry), neem and rose. These aid in digestion, purify the blood, increase immunity and improve stamina.
‘If you take honey with lemon water early in the morning on an empty stomach, it cleans your digestive system,’ informs Madhavi Vivek, proprietor of Delhi-based Himflora Gold which markets five varieties of honey. ‘We have Kashmir honey, litchi honey, eucalyptus honey, orange honey and sunflower honey. These are gathered by bees in specific orchards,’ she adds. Honey mixed with water is also the best drink for relieving fatigue and has a calming effect.
Also known as gotu kola, brahmi is mainly known for its memory enhancing properties. However, it is also the most important rejuvenating herb in ayurvedic medicine. It increases intelligence and promotes longevity, wards off senility, fortifies the immune system and is also a powerful blood purifier. Brahmi is beneficial in chronic skin diseases, including leprosy and syphilis, as well as eczema and psoriasis.
Brahmi grows commonly in the Himalayan region and can be taken with honey before meditation. As a milk decoction, brahmi makes a good nerve tonic. For rejuvenation properties, it is best prepared in tea. Some brahmi based medicines that enhance memory are also available in the Indian market under the brand names Memory Plus and Mega Mind, and can be found in most chemist shops.
It is said that only a healthy body can be the abode of a healthy mind. No wonder rishis (sages) of yore laid so much stress on physical fitness and formulated both ayurveda and hatha yoga.
But modern life, with its stress, pollution, pesticides and hurried meals, is a steady onslaught on the health of an individual. Add to that the easy availability of junk food that might tickle the taste buds but actually does more harm than good, and you know why the modern man is such a vulnerable target for all sorts of diseases and chronic ailments. Then should we not take a second look at what’s on our plate? More so, when so many health food items are easily available, and can give you all the nourishment you need? Health, after all, is just a supermarket away.
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