May 2011 What our ancestors once regarded as the acme of sensible eating is the nutritional wisdom of our times When it comes to food, we have come full circle. The pillars of our traditional cuisine are today hailed as miracle foods. Recent research now proves that these traditional stalwarts boost memory, improve concentration, restore physical performance, increase immunity and reverse disease. Here is the list of miracle foods that have made a big difference to my life. Fruits, sweet fruits: It is a natural instinct to crave for sweets. Mother’s milk, our first food, is sweet. Ancient man originally lived on fruits, dry fruits, nuts and leafy green vegetables, provided abundantly by nature. Fruits are packed with natural sugar and laden with antioxidants that fight free radicals that accellerate aging and cause disease. Antioxidants come from orange, red, yellow and green coloured foods like oranges, apples, bananas, berries, chikoos, watermelon, and kiwi. Leafy greens: Leafy greens have been eaten in all ages. They are power houses that provide you with vitamins, minerals and protein. They are high in calcium, iron, and good folic acid and beta-carotene, all of which is good for your eyes, hair and skin. Vitamin C increases your immunity. Vitamin K aids in blood clotting. Magnesium gives you relief from cramps. Spinach is rich in protein. Leafy greens are versatile – you can add them to your vegetable, salad, dals, rice or roti. Think palak, methi, chowli and, of course, coriander. In some parts of our country, a meal is not considered complete without coriander chutney; and coriander is sprinkled over all our foods in abundance. Flax seeds: Archaeologists have revealed that flax was cultivated in Babylon around 5,000 BC and Hippocrates, the father of medicine, commended its health benefits in a 5th century BC treatise. Mahatma Gandhi was a strong advocate of flax seeds. Flax is an important source of Omega-3 fatty acid, and fibre. It is also good for your heart, brain, hair, skin, bones, and respiratory system. Remember to chew flax well and never swallow them whole. You should have at least a tablespoon a day. Whole truth: Whole grains like bajra, jowar, ragi, wheat, maize, unpolished rice and barley should be had daily. They give you energy, fibre, and vitamins, especially the B group which is the energy-giving vitamin. Barley, one of the oldest staple foods, is also known as jav, and is mentioned in the Rig Veda. Barley lowers cholesterol, is excellent for diabetes and improves stamina. Ragi, also known as finger millet, is native to the South. These grains have been found to be in use during the Indus valley civilization. They are high in calcium and excellent for bones. Bajra is a good source of iron. Unpolished rice has a lot of fibre and protein. Betel leaf: Popularly known as paan, this leaf has been mentioned in the Vedas. As a preparation, it is an amazing digestive high in calcium. A must-have after a meal, the leaf is a good source of antioxidants and a good mouth freshener. Paan also finds mention in pre-2000 BC Vietnamese literature. Fat is good Fats are essential for absorbing vitamin A, D, E and K. They are important for your overall health, including your eyes, hair and skin, and for regulating hormones, cardiovascular health, digestion and maintaining body temperature. They also play an essential role in absorbing calcium. Monounsaturated fat, saturated fat as well as polyunsaturated fats are needed for good health. Olive oil, ghee, and seeds have been mentioned as healthy sources of fat for centuries. Olive oil: A good source of monounsaturated fat, olive oil helps prevent cardiovascular diseases and contains abundant antioxidants that prevent degenerative diseases as well as cancers. Always choose extra virgin olive oil and not pomac. Ghee: Ayurveda extols the nourishing qualities of cow’s ghee. Ghee contains saturated fat which is essential in small quantities. It is good for the health of the heart and is an excellent source of Vitamin A. Seeds: Sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds contain polyunsaturated fats that are good for your heart and brain development. Spices: Turmeric is native to India. The Vedas mention it. It is considered highly auspicious and is an excellent blood purifier as well as restorative food. Turmeric has been found to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. It is rich in antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory as well as anti-cancer properties. It is truly a beautifying food and a must-have everyday. Nuts: Charaka, the father of Ayurveda, refers to them as abbsika, meaning ‘gift from the gods’. Vegetables: Rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, vegetables prevent cancers, lower cholesterol and increase immunity. Their fibre content nourishes and cleanses the digestive tract. Vegetables have zero fat content, making them a dieter’s delight! They are a boon for the hair, skin and eyes and should form the bulk of one’s food. Water: Water has always been the drink of choice traditionally, and rightly so. It is the best detoxifier. It flushes out all toxins as well as excess salt, and helps maintain muscle tone while preventing muscle dehydration. It is the best cure for water retention. Organic food: In the last century, the use of chemicals and pesticides have poisoned our fields and our food. Today, we are witnessing a return to organic whole foods. They are pure, more nutritious and environment-friendly. According to the UK Soil Association, organic food has 390 per cent more selenium, which protects against cancer, than inorganic food, 188 per cent more magnesium for the muscles and brain, 78 per cent more chromium to fight heart disease and 10 to 15 per cent more antioxidants for glowing skin, 63 per cent more calcium and 70 per cent more boron for improved bones and more brain-building omega3 fatty acids. In short, if you value your health and well-being, you can’t do better than to return to these time-honoured foods.
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