With a pandemic that ravaged the world, foods that help build the body’s functionality have come under the spotlight. And under renewed focus are the ancient practices of ayurveda and homeopathy. Two practices that have always held a huge place in Indian cuisine.
Increasingly, people worldwide have been turning to alternative medicine post the health scare. But ayurveda and homeopathy have traditionally been incorporated into Indian cuisine and lifestyle for centuries. This involves everything from recommending the use of spices to consumption of carbohydrates. Put simply, according to both the systems, food is medicine - and you are what you eat and how you eat.
The homeopathic perspective
Developed in the late 18th century by German physician Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann, homeopathy is a medical system based on the belief that the body can cure itself. Natural substances like plants and minerals are recommended to stimulate the healing process.
Dr Rupal Merchant, a Dubai-based homeopath, has one clear-cut rule – that of not complicating eating. She instead recommends simply eating what your older generations have eaten. “Your body will crave for that food no matter what,” she said. “If you’re Indian for example, no matter how much chia and couscous and quinoa you eat, your body will crave for the foods like idli, dosa and rice if you are from south India … or roti, paratha and chana if you are from northern India.”
Indian traditional foods are recognised as functional foods because of the presence of functional components such as body healing chemicals, antioxidants, dietary fibres and probiotics, she said. Such foods help in weight management, maintenance of blood sugar level and increasing immunity. “A typical Indian meal consists of good carbs and healthy protein and fats. Curd, beans, lentils, and fish provide essential amino acids, which are required for muscle building. Eat home cooked food as much as possible, try to cook yourself at least once a week. Reduce intake of salt.”
With the pandemic bringing a renewed focus on building one’s immunity, spices plays a major role, she said, underscoring that Indian curries are made by using such spices not only for their flavour, but their medicinal values too.
At the top of her list are the following spices:
1. Turmeric: Anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. The active ingredient of turmeric is curcumin, which is anti-carcinogenic too.
2. Black pepper: Relieves cough, cold and boosts metabolism.
3. Garlic: Lowers cholesterol, and also regulates blood pressure.
4. Ginger: Cures cough, cold and helps in digestion.
5. Cloves: Powerhouse of antioxidants. Also has anti-fungal properties.
6. Coriander: Helps in flushing the kidneys. Also good for eyesight. This is why chutneys made out of coriander are a good side to have with every meal.
7. Ajwain or carom seeds: Rich in calcium and fibre; helps in curing digestive disturbance like gas and bloating.
Why you should consume carbs (low GI ones)
Just like curries, grains and wheat have received a bad rap over the years, but form an integral part of south Asian cuisine. Dr Merchant frowns upon the practice, calling the no-wheat no-rice diet a fad. “Basically no carbs. Besides giving energy to the body carbohydrates also perform other functions like helping hormones and our immune system to function well. It also regularises our bowel moments.
“In the absence of carbs fat cannot be utilised for energy. So eat your carbs with low GI (glycemic index) such as wheat, bajra, raagi, multigrain, rice, etc. Stay away from those with high GI like refined flour, cake, pizza, white bread, sugary food\drinks, biscuits and cookies.”
Dr Merchant said while she sees a stress on body weight everywhere, the key is body fat. “So don’t count calories, count nutrition instead. Quick diets don’t help as you can’t be on a diet all your life. Make lifestyle changes to remain healthy. Rest your body with quality sleep so as to regenerate body cells. Make sure you get your Vitamin D - make the sun your friend. Make eating a pleasure experience, but don’t eat to overcome boredom or stress.”
The ayurvedic perspective
One of the world’s oldest healing systems and sciences of cooking, Ayurveda was developed over 5,000 years ago, and has hugely influenced not only India’s cuisine but that of the world’s too. Based on the unique combination of Vata (Ether), Pitta (Fire) and Kapha (Water), Ayurveda brings a personalised approach to each body type.
Dr Jijo Blesson, Medical Director and Chief Physician at Kottakkal Ayurvedic Center in Ajman and Dubai, said an ayurvedic proverb best summarises the impact of ayurveda. “When the diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When the diet is correct, medicine is of no need.
“Eating foods uniquely suited to our physiology, and following smart ayurvedic food guidance has a significant role in nourishing and healing when consumed the right way in right dosage. Ayurveda always recommends dietary plans based on individual body constitution, digestive fire, seasonal variations, etc.”
So what should be included in our daily diet?
“Foods rich in antioxidants that neutralise the free radicals causing oxidative damage to our tissues like turmeric, gooseberry, sesame seeds, fruits that are rich in beta-carotene, vitamin C and E must be included in daily food,” she said.
The following staples of Indian cooking offer some impressive health benefits according to ayurveda, said Dr Blesson:
1. Sesame seeds: A good source of fibres called lignans, it helps in digestive health and has cholesterol-lowering effects. Unhulled sesame seeds are rich in B vitamins, manganese, magnesium, calcium, copper, phosphorus, zinc, molybdenum and selenium that are vital to bone, hair and dental health. The presence of phyto-oestrogens balances hormone fluctuations in women, especially during menopause, and is also found to reduce PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome). It is a nutritious source of plant protein, which is a necessary building block of body.
2. Fenugreek: controls blood sugar levels and bad cholesterol levels. Helps with appetite control and is anti-inflammatory. It is also known to be helpful for menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea). It also increases milk production in lactating mothers.
3. Turmeric: an anti-inflammatory herb beneficial in allergic pathologies. It contains antioxidants that prevent oxidative damage due to free radicals and thus is anti-ageing. Turmeric can reduce the synaptic marker loss and the accumulation of amyloids linked to Alzheimer’s development. Curcumin is an effective anti-carcinogen and maintains ulcerative colitis remission.
4. Garlic: Allicin, the active content in it, has anti-bacterial effects and helps reduce unhealthy fats and cholesterol levels, which lowers the risk of heart disease. The active components in garlic can reduce blood pressure. It minimises bone loss by increasing oestrogens in women.
5. Indian gooseberry: Known for its anti-diabetic effect and immune boosting properties. It keeps the body cool and is undeniably a powerhouse of nutrition like iron, vitamin C and K etc. It is good for strength and growth of hair. It increases good cholesterol level.
6. Asparagus: The presence of phyto-oestrogens makes it a boon to women. It is used effectively for hot flushes in menopause, bleeding disorders, peptic ulcers, etc. It enhances milk production in lactating mothers.
7. Asafoetida: It helps reduce bloating and other stomach problems. Improves digestion, bloating, constipation and is an excellent part of a holistic remedy in upper respiratory tract infections.
Asparagus, gooseberry, raisins, ragi (finger millet), water-rich vegetables such as cucumbers, barley and coriander are cold in potency. Tender coconut water, buttermilk, avocado juice, and pomegranate juice help with cooling the body. Fruits like watermelon, and vegetables like celery, contain a lot of water, helping with hydration.
Mango, pineapple, papaya, anise and brinjal are found to be hot in potency. Basil, ginger, garlic and spices are considered to be hot foods. Spices like ajwain or carom seeds, mustard and asafoetida help provide relief from common ailments like colds and flu in the winter season.
Lifestyle disorders likely begin with incompatible food combining and improper metabolism, Dr Blesson said. “Incompatible foods combining can produce indigestion, fermentation, putrefaction, gas formation and, if prolonged, can lead to toxemia (an abnormal condition associated with the presence of toxic substances in the blood) and disease. And Ayurveda advises that good health starts with proper metabolism of food.
"Ayurvedic diet always ensures to make nutrition bioavailable as it always considers the digestive fire. For which Ayurveda suggests different types of herbal and animal soups, always flavoured with spices like black pepper, ginger, garlic, asafoetida, and nutmeg.”
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