I get a lot of queries about diet and food. Since holistic health is largely about diet and exercise, I make it a point to attend as many sessions as I can to gain insight into different food trends and beliefs. Your diet, like your style of clothing, has to be something that you are comfortable with and that works for you. Food trends that may work for others may not be suitable for your body chemistry. A diet which is convenient for others may not be convenient for you at all. For this reason, I feel we should all be very mindful about our diets, and also willing to experiment. Beliefs that we’ve been holding on to for years may not hold good for us. Alternatively, things that we think are not true and ‘don’t work’ may actually show results!
Growing up around the world at a time when Indian food wasn’t easily accessible ensured that I’m a simple and unfussy eater. I did have my quirks (like all kids). For instance, for some reason I couldn’t stand tomatoes in any sabjis and dals and would always fish them out of my food! However, living all over the world ensured great gastronomical delights such as candy apples in the famous carnivals of Brazil, khubz and fasulia in the by lanes of Yemen and mishti doi in the mangroves of Bangaldesh knowns as the Shundarbans. Food is a big part of culture and to this day I enjoy sampling local flavors and cuisine.
Rekha Diwekar is a proponent of local food. Her talk was aptly titled ‘Delicious Yet Nutritious’. She wanted to dispel the myth that food has to be tasteless and bland in order to be nutritious. Her contention is that it is possible to remain fit and healthy by eating clean and local produce.
Below are some points from her talk:
- Your food is responsible for producing the digestive enzymes that will extract the nutrients that you body can use. The process of digestion starts from the moment you see and smell the food and start to salivate in anticipation of the delicious food. Tasteless food creates no enzymes and therefore digestion doesn’t happen optimally.
- The process of aging occurs when the number of cells that are regenerated and renewed in your body are less than that number of cells that die. This process starts at the age of 25. In other words, you start to age at 25.
- We eat food, food eats us too. Any food that doesn’t nourish you is eating you up from the inside.
- One of the main factors you need to keep in mind when choosing is the food miles. The more local your food, the less it has travelled with artificial preservatives to keep it fresh for longer.
- The food you choose should be traditional and seasonal.
- The best way to decided whether you should eat a particular food is to ask yourself two questions about the food: Can I eat this food repeatedly for 15 days. For instance, panipuri is tasty and it makes you salivate, but in all honesty, can you eat it for 15 days straight with the same zeal and gusto? Probably not. The next question to ask your self is whether you feel light and energetic. If you feel heavy and sleepy post lunch, it would be a good idea to analyse what you are consuming for lunch. According to Rekha Diwekar, just like some clothes look better on the mannequin, some foods look better in the shop and should stay in the shop and not in our tummies.
- Rice is a superfood. It is a popular myth that diabetics shouldn’t have rice because of the sugar content. The sugar found in rice is different from actual white sugar. Plain and simple sugars like glucose and cane sugar have a chemical formula. They go into your system and react. Rice has no chemical formula, so what happens to it once it enters your system is different from what happens when you eat sugar. Rice is an anti allergen so its great for gluten intolerant people. Also, rice contains Lysine which is the precursor to the Human Growth Hormone (HGH). The reason you start to age at 25 is because the HGH production decreases.
- Eating rice at night is a great option because rice is easily digested and you end up feeling light and fresh in the morning. Although rice has a high GI (glycemic index), when mixed with something (such as curd or dal) the GI becomes low and rice becomes a superfood. Single polished rice is recommended.
- The vitamin deficiencies that have become omnipresent now can be linked to the absence of healthy fats in our current diets. Vitamins A D E and K are fat soluble. So you need good quality fats to dissolve them. Good fats are composed of SCFA – Short Chain Fatty Acids. When we sit in the sun hoping to combat our Vit D deficiency, we need to also understand that the process of conversion from D2 to D3 will only happen in the presence of good fats. Ghee is a good fat. Traditionally we make gajar ka halwa during the winters. When made with ghee, this combination contains good fats and Vit A. Also, traditionally women are asked to eat a lot of ‘fattening’ food when they are pregnant. This usually consists of ghee laden ladoos and panjiri. During pregnancy your Thyroid has to work overtime and the healthy fats from these goodies ensure that your Vit D levels stay normal.
- Another source of good fat is coconut. Coconuts contain MCFA – Medium Chain Fatty Acids and MCTs – Medium Chain Triglycerides. Both these are responsible for your physical stamina and mental peace. Coconut water helps in treating vaginal infections and muscle cramps as well.
- Many people I know (and I have to admit I’m guilty of this too) don’t have the coconut chutney with their idlis and dosas. But the combination of the idli/dosa and chutney is optimal.
- Avoid LCFA – Low Chain Fatty Acids.T hese are found in biscuits, fried street food, bakery products and cakes.
- When cooking with oil, just use the oil once. At high temperatures oil becomes rancid and not nutritious for you.
- Have local filtered oils. In the south these would include peanut and coconut oils and in the north this would be mustard oil. Seed oils are the best oils.
- When it comes to Indian food, you will get the most of the nutrients only by following combinations should be followed:
- cereal + pulses (eg. dal chawal)
- cereal + milk products (eg. kheer, curd rice)
- milk + pulses (eg. kadi chawal)
- Another food label that we should become aware of is GRAS – Generally Regarded as Safe. A lot of processed foods contain this label and it is misleading.
- The food plan for a typical day would be:
- Wake up and drink water.
- Have some fruits/dry fruits.
- Mid morning snack: Fruit/Coconut/Sherbet
- Mid afternoon snack: Fruit
- Another snack
- Light dinner
- Eating a food for a particular nutrient (fiber, protein etc.) is impossible. Food and our bodies have a complex chemistry and it is impossible to reduce the process of digestion and assimilation to a single nutrient found in a particular food.
- For those who are allergic to gluten, millets are a great idea. Gluten is a non nutrient, so it is OK to eliminate it from your diet. However, elimination of any food groups should only happen if you are allergic to that particular food.
- Sources of good fat: coconuts, nuts, filtered oils, and homemade butter.
- All sources of fructose have low GI. So all fruits have low GI and are easy to metabolise by your body.
- Too much fibre isn’t good for you.
- Many of us rue our hunger. However, hunger is a sign of youth. A growing body feels hungry. So revel in your hunger because it shows you that you are young and healthy.
Today was the first day I had an early morning session. I’ve become used to waking up around 7, so 5 am was a challenge (funny how easy it is to get into the habit of waking up late). I got ready quickly and hurried to the class. As usual the class was full, even at that early hour. We went through the usual rigmarole of standing poses, inversions etc. Not much to report. Except that I continue to read voraciously.
What I like about Rujuta’s books is that they are very relevant to our lives and times. She talks about local food. And essentially, she makes health and fitness accessible to the masses. By masses, I don’t mean the vast majority of Indians who don’t have access to Acai seeds. I mean those of us who are so busy with the mundanity of life, that we don’t have time to hunt down the best quality goji berries or chia seeds available to us. So this book is a great resource for those who would like to eat well with the least hassle. For me it was great because I believe in simple food and wholesome health. To stay in optimum health and shape is more a function of eating simple unadulterated food, instead of exotic produce and unpronounceable ingredients lists. My idea is simple. If you focus on quality, then the most commonly available ingredients will have you glowing a la lightbulb. I believe this and try to eat like that, and I do enjoy good health for the most part.
In addition to this, Rujuta has also brought to light lots of fruits and vegetables from different regions in India. It helps in us becoming curious and a bit more experimental with our food, and also inculcates a sense of awareness of the richness of what our land has to offer. From ghee to something called the ambadi fruit, her book makes local produce come alive and become tempting. This blog isn’t a summary of the book, but just a little bit of info. The book has a lot more information to offer and I would really suggest that you read the book. However, here is a little bit of information to pique your interest:
- Ghee – It’s a myth that ghee is fattening. In fact, it is lipolytic, it breaks down fat. So if you eat ghee you’re helping in breaking down stubborn fat. Helpful advice that she gives for women: If you get skin breakouts before or with every period eat ghee at least three times a day. Plus she has a bonus recipe for how to make ghee.
- Kokum – this is a fruit I haven’t had, but I had a drink made out of this at Dastkaar. Rub kokum butter on the soles of your feet right before you sleep and you will sleep deeply, regardless of how stressed and frazzled you are. Definitely on my shopping list.
- Banana – here I have a banana before every class. Actually, in Bangalore as well. It’s a myth that bananas are fattening. They are low on fat and in fact help in fat burning and in reducing cholesterol!
- Kaju – good to combat PCOD and hypothyroidism. Prevents adult acne and improves fertility too!
- Ambadi – I’ve never had this plant nor heard about it. Another item on my shopping list. If you know how to pronounce this word, do let me know. Interestingly, this local green (and other’s like it) are called ‘orphan crops’, crops that no one grows because there is no demand for them. You can make it into a sabzi and get your iron, vit B and folic acid from it. The stems of the Ambadi plant are used to make jhadoos and fabric. I wonder if they make yoga mats out of this…
- Rice – prevents premature wrinkling and supports good hair growth. Need I say more?
- Coconut – doesn’t contain cholesterol because it’s a plant based food. Plus it actually helps in reducing ‘central adiposity’ (fat in the middle) and so helps in ensuring a slim waist.
- Aliv – used in laddoos! Great for skin, it evens out skin tone, gets rid of patches and naturally brightens the complexion. Wonder if Diwali laddoos contain this seed…
- Jackfruit – low in fat and rich in fibre, so it helps in reducing cholesterol levels. Also, the fruit has a lot of anti-oxidants.
- Sugar – don’t replace with jaggery as both have different properties. Jaggery adds heat to the body while sugar is a coolant.
If the above points were interesting, you should go out and get a copy of the book. It does give you food for thought and even if you’re unable to apply everything she talks about into your life, it still helps to be aware of what we are eating and what are the food choices that are available to us.
For the last one week or so my friend Geetanjali and I have been excited about the Rujuta Talk that was held yesterday at Sadhu Vaswani Mission’s Little Lamps Pre School. The excitement was palpable at the venue. The seats up front were already taken and the camera people were ready. The best thing about Rujuta’s ideas and beliefs about food is that she preaches a holistic approach to food. There is nothing fitness fad-ish about what her advice, and her diet guidelines are ‘accessible’ for the masses. With this in mind I went prepared with pen and paper.
Rujuta’s talk focused on overall family wellness. So she spoke a lot about children. There was a Q&A afterwards, where enthusiastic fans needed answers to all their questions. I tried my best to note down as much as I could. Here are my notes:
- 90 minutes of exercise a day is recommended for children.
- 150 minutes a week for adults. Rujuta recommends that you have three sessions a week: weight training, yoga and cardio. According to Rujuta, men develop a paunch when they lose strength and muscle in their lower body. Womens’ hips grow wider. Weight training is an excellent solution for the paunches and the wide hips of this world.
- For every 30 minutes you sit, stand for 3 minutes. (I’ve already started this by setting an alarm on my phone.)
- Diabesity = diabetes + obesity.
- Exercise 3 days a week AT A FIXED TIME. (I believe this has a lot to do with discipline. In my experience people who don’t pencil their workouts into their calendars are the ones who do them ‘later.’)
- Don’t look at anything that emits light an hour before you sleep. An important point she made is that fitness bands (the current fad) also emit light and fall under this rule. So bands that are supposed to measure the quality of your sleep are actually promoting bad quality of sleep. In her irreverent manner Rujuta said that if you want to know how well you slept then look at the person sleeping next to you. If you haven’t tossed and turned and snored the entire night, then they would be sleeping peacefully, and that’s a more accurate measure of the quality of your sleep. (I would like to point out that you maybe have tossed and turned for reasons agreeable to both of you…)
- Body chemistry and biology is determined by the HPT axis – Hypothalamus Pituitary Thyroid. (These actually correspond to chakras!)
- The HGH (Human Growth Hormone). With the decreases of HGH there is a also a decrease in muscle tissue and a corresponding increase in fat stores. And lack of sleep contributes immensely to the decrease of HGH. (The lack of quality sleep is perhaps what is causing the increase in childhood obesity?)
- HGH also decreases with age, which is why you gain weight as you age. This is why it’s imperative that you continue to workout as you age.
- Always have breakfast. Your breakfast should be hot and homemade. Never have anything that comes out of a packet such as oats and cereals and tetra pack milk (!).
- Have your husband cook twice a week Here Rujuta made a point that resonated very strongly the feminist in me. She said that most of us have grandfathers who can cook. Some of us have dads who can cook. But none of us have husbands who can cook. In fact our husbands may not even know how much sugar we take in our tea! To be empowered doesn’t mean to only go out and earn a living and draw a fat paycheck. Empowerment also has a great deal to do with how much equality exists in the home.
- Don’t count the composition of your food (calories, carbohydrates, protein, fat etc.)
- Coconuts have no cholesterol.
- Cashews have no cholesterol. If you have high levels of blood sugar you should have cashews.
- The USDA has revised it’s guidelines in April 2015 to state that there is no link between cholesterol consumption and heart disease.
- Learn food systems and not food groups.
- Have a banana on your way to the airport and not a Subway sandwich.
- Are you bloated when you wake up? Do you crave for coffee/tea post a meal? Are you constipated? Fear no more! Just have a banana. Bananas contain prebiotics, they help in fat burn and they are rich in fiber. Prebiotics provide the infrastructure for all the millions of good bacteria to flourish in your gut. These are as important as probiotics.
- Great breakfast option: Roti + banana + sugar
- Great fruits with a meal: bananas, jackfruit and mangoes.
- “Banana zaroor khana.”
- Ghee helps in post pregnancy weight loss.
- Make your ghee from milk. Do NOT use your mixer because the heat from the centrifugal force kills the important fatty acid bonds in the ghee.
- Ghee has prebiotics.
- Ghee reduces the GI (Glycemic Index) of food.
- Have single polished and hand pounded rice. Rice has lycene, an amino acid which is linked to HGH. HGH is at it’s peak in the night so if you have rice in the night, you give your HGH a boost.
- Raagi is high in calcium, gluten free and high in fiber. It is a complete non allergen and it’s great for bones. In an age when everyone seems to be deficient in Vitamin D – Raagi is the solution because it helps in retaining it!
- Sugarcane detoxes and cleanses your system. (It’s cold pressed! Rujuta exclaimed mirthfully.) If you have sugarcane juice in the winter, you can prevent all the seasonal issues that come along with the onset of winters.
- Jaggery – another form of sugarcane! It contains glycolic acid which prevents wrinkles and it keeps your collagen intact. (Personally I’d rather eat wholesome food containing glycolic acid than slathering on chemical formulae on my face.)
Post the session everyone gathered around Rujuta to ask her questions, take pictures and have her sign their books. I also took a book along but was dissuaded to go up to her by the throng of people around her. However, Geetanjali whipped out her phone and egged me on. And when I finally managed to get up to Rujuta and told her that I’ve taken notes and is it OK if I put it up on the blog, she said yes! of course and what blog is it that I write for? I told her that I have a blog called yogawithpragya and Geetanjali captured this moment:
Rujuta says she’s read my blog!!!! OMG!!!! Rujuta Diwekar has visited my blog (happy dance)!!!! That explains this expression:
All in all it was an awesome morning. Rujuta is an engaging and intelligent speaker. She seamlessly links grandmother’s food wisdom to solutions to modern day environmental issues such as global warming. She talks about cooking and women’s empowerment. She talks about the transience of food fads. And she reads the newspapers and this blog! 🙂
Yesterday I took a break to track down the local Ramdev shop here in Jorhat. I stocked up on my usual goods such as aloe vera and amla juice along with honey. A new product I found was Patanjali’s Tejus Tailam. I’ve been meaning to start my daily Abhiyanga routine for this season, but hadn’t really gotten around to it. Abhiyanga or abhiyangam is an Ayurvedic routine to keep your body healthy during the winters. This is something that is widely practiced here. It basically involves massaging your body from head to toe using an Ayurvedic or organic oil and letting the skin absorb this oil for about 10-15 minutes. It’s great to let a masseuse work on you every once in a while, but a home practice of abhiyanga is something that you can easily incorporate into your daily routine and really reap the benefits.
- Make sure the oil is warm. You can heat it or just immerse the bottle in some hot water. Here too, like everywhere else, use your instinct. Get the oil warm enough to get your skin feeling good.
- Next, take some oil in the palm of your hand and work the oil into your soles using your finger tips or your knuckles. You want to get the circulation going, so be firm instead of gentle.
- Work your way up your legs using long straight strokes on limbs and circular strokes on the joints such as knees, elbows etc. For your stomach, work up from the right side, across, then down the left.
- Use circular movements on your face.
- You can incorporate a head massage in your daily abhiyanga as well, although for people with long hair, this can be somewhat cumbersome.
- Make sure to use lots of oil, your body should get really greasy and slippery.
- Let your body soak the oil in for about 15 minutes and then bathe/shower.
Why do this daily? Benefits?
- Great to flush out the toxins that tend to accumulate during the winter season.
- Keeps your joints healthy.
- Keeps your skin healthy and supple.
- By massaging your muscles every day, you decrease the risk of injury during the winter season. Also, if you have sore muscles due to a workout or injury, abhiyanga massage speeds up the process of recovery.
- Because it is so relaxing, it promotes deeper and more restful sleep. You wake up refreshed and rejuvenated.
Along with this Ayurveda also recommends sleeping at least 8 hours during the winters. Attune your body to the sun, sleep as soon as you can post sunset and wake up with the sun.
Drink a lot of warm fluids throughout the day, even warming up your water.
For the winter months, avoid raw foods and veggies. Steam your salads.