All of us know that eating healthy can have a major impact on the way one feels. Load up on fast-food and processed junk and you will, probably, start to feel sluggish, tired and weighed down. Cram in tonnes of nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables into your diet and you are likely to find yourself full of energy and feeling good.
Super foods take it to the next step, helping optimise your body’s ability to function by supplying a mega dose of nutrients. Certain super foods are jam-packed with nutrients and can help provide your body with the vitamins and minerals you need to thrive, survive and feel great. Include a few servings of these foods in your diet, paired with regular physical activity, and you will be on your way to a healthier life. This week, I will share information on some super foods which should be an essential part your daily meal.
Rice, which is the staple of billions on this planet, has been demonised as a source of excess carbs and low protein. But, as long as you eat enough unrefined starches and vegetables to get sufficient amount of calories, you do not have to worry about lack of protein. Try this forgotten magical technique of paani-bhaat
or old rice or cold rice, used all over India. Cook rice the previous day, soak in water and store overnight in an earthenware pot. This hikes its iron, potassium and calcium content by several hundred percentages! Plus you get additional burst of B6 and B12 vitamins along with a bonus of nutritionally rich gut-friendly bacteria. Have it with a twist of lemon. This dish is said to be the secret of the longevity of Manohar Aich who won the title Mr Universe in 1952 and lived for 104 years and was active until the last few days of his life. When he became a centenarian, he told India Today, "Earlier, I used to have panta bhaat
four times a day. Panta bhaater jol, tin jowaner bol
(the water of fermented rice can give power to three strong men)." https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/health/story/20120423-bodybuilder-manohar-aich-india-first-mr-universe-1952-758059-2012-04-13
Combining rice with lentils or yogurt (dahi bhaat) is common all over India and is also an extremely healthy choice. Chaas or buttermilk made from dahi (yogurt) is a super food/drink served by urban street-food vendors as a cooling refreshment, particularly in the summer months. Now, remember yogurt comes from milk. So you get a dose of protein, plus several other nutrients found in dairy foods, like calcium, vitamin B-2, vitamin B-12, potassium and magnesium.
Ragi, a millet, deserves to be at the top of the food grain pyramid as it is a rich source of carbohydrates. With seeds that are too tiny to be polished or processed, it’s mostly consumed in its purest form. I would advise that you introduce yourself to millets gradually. Mix the flours - wheat with jowar (sorghum) or ragi, for instance; also vary the forms - have them as upma, porridge, or as whole grain substitutes for rice and rotis. When compared on an equal calorie basis, sorghum has 86% as much protein as quinoa. Not to mention, it's a fraction of the price of quinoa which is mostly grown in select parts of South America, while we grow sorghum right here in India.
Vegetarians get their quota of protein from lentils. For humans, the secret of staying slim and healthy would be a high-fibre diet. As long as people eat any reasonable assortment of unprocessed plant foods, they automatically get enough protein. So what about non-vegetarian fare? If you must eat meat, go for lean meat, boneless chicken and turkey. Tofu can also replace meat. Fish comes with some qualities. About 100gm (grammes) of heart-friendly oil-rich mackerel or bangda has 17gm of protein. Rawas, or Indian salmon, has 26gm.A purely plant-based diet can provide all vitamins except vitamin D (received from the sun) and vitamin B12 (from bacteria).
We all know about the incredible nutritional density of sprouts. Sprouts and micro-greens have huge amounts of live enzymes - in fact, some sprouts can have up to 100 times more enzymes and nutrition than fully grown, raw fruits and vegetables! Enzymes are magical catalysts for all your body's functions, including digestion. Sprouts and micro-greens also have incredibly high levels of vitamins and minerals.
Gram-for-gram, moringa (drumstick) has more protein than yogurt, more potassium than bananas, more calcium than milk and more vitamin C than oranges. With a long history of traditional use, moringa has been touted for some 300 medicinal benefits. Its leaves are the most nutritious part of the plant. They can be cooked and used like spinach or crushed into powder to be used in soups and sauces.
All plants, and most animals, make their own vitamin C, with the exception of human beings, gorillas and guinea pigs. That fact alone should alert us to the fact that we should be eating fruits and vegetables! One of the best sources of vitamin C is amla (Indian gooseberry). But, remember, heating or drying can degrade the vitamin. Fresh amla juice contains 20 times as much vitamin C as is present in orange juice! The antioxidant potency of amla is 55 times higher than that of blueberries. Tomatoes are also a very good source of vitamin C.
Beets are dense with nutrients including potassium, magnesium, vitamin C and a good dose of nitrates. They help reduce blood pressure and anaemia, improve circulation and cognitive function. However, people with oxalate-kidney stones and those with diabetes should limit their beet intake.
On a per calorie basis, spinach has more protein than meat. Every 100 calories contain 12.5gm of protein. However, one would need to eat at least three clamshells of spinach to attain the 100 calories -- a tall order, indeed. Steaming it can easily circumvent this problem. But combining spinach with paneer (cottage cheese) is not such a great idea. The iron from spinach and calcium from paneer are essential nutrients by themselves. But their combined intake is counterproductive because calcium can inhibit the absorption of iron. Eating a big bowl of raw iron-rich spinach is also not as healthy. The oxalic acid in raw spinach binds with iron preventing its absorption by the body. Adding vitamin C, by slightly squeezing a lemon helps convert the iron from ferric to ferrous state, making it easier for the body to absorb.
Oats are among the healthiest grains on earth. They are gluten-free and a great source of fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. But oat groats, the most intact and whole form of oats, take a long time to cook. For this reason, many prefer the crushed, rolled or steel-cut form. Oatmeal porridge made by boiling it with water and milk is a fantastic breakfast food.
When cooking any of these super foods, use heart-healthy oils, like groundnut or olive, which make it easier for the body to absorb all of the beneficial properties.