Rujuta Diwekar in addition to being India’s leading nutrition and exercise science expert, is also a courageous contrarian. For there is no other suitable word to express the outspoken yet riveting views which she expresses in her book, “Indian Superfoods: Change the Way You Eat.” Inimitable and irreverent, she may well be the Nicholas Nassim Taleb of the dietary and nutrition world. Rooting for consumption of food that is traditionally produced in the region in which the consumer is based and also a ferocious advocate for the employ of common sense than hankering after fad diets, Ms. Diwekar is both a nutritionist as well as an outlier.
“Indian Superfoods” is all about destroying the myth about, and according the rightful recognition to a few Indian Superfoods which have either been relegated to the confines of doubt on account of the misconceptions attached to them or on courtesy the ‘Westernization’ of the choice of ingredients that make their way onto our plate. As Mark Twain once memorably remarked, “the only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not.” In a world going bonkers in alternating between Atkins and Keto diets, this book by Ms. Diwekar comes as a welcome antidote. As Ms. Diwekar states at the very beginning of her work, “statistics though prove that less than 20 per cent people are successful in keeping the weight off after they have lost it.” If Bollywood starlets such as Kareena Kapoor and Alia Bhatt can trust Ms. Diwekar on this, we all surely can as well!
So, accompanied by drum rolls, here go the list of Indian Superfoods, which Ms. Diwekar insists that we must gorge on paying scant heed to pessimistic opposition:
- Ghee: “The Fat Burner”;
- Kokum or Garcinia Indica: “The Natural Antacid”;
- Banana: “The Recharger”;
- Kaju or Cashewnut: “The Antidepressant”;
- Ambadi: “The Stomach-Soother”;
- Rice: “The Grain That Sustains”;
- Coconut: “The Calmer”;
- Aliv: “The Beauty Pill”;
- Jackfruit: “The Fertility Booster”;
- Sugar: “The Anti-Ageing Secret”
Adherents of crash diets and gym animals alike would go apoplectic reading the words rice, sugar and banana in the above list. This is exactly what separates Ms. Diwekar from the rest. Diffident in her resolve not to jump onto any contemporaneous bandwagon, she gives two or even three hoots to received wisdom and topples convention on its head. But she does not do this in a rustic or suspicious fashion. Diving into empirical evidence and traditional wisdom, she dissects the properties of each superfood before expounding on their merits, to her readers.
According to Ms. Diwekar, to qualify as a ‘super food’, an ingredient/product must satisfy the following criteria:
- They grow naturally in the same land you live;
- They are rich in micronutrients and taste;
- Every part of the crop/plant can be used in unique ways;
- They encourage diversity in your diet; and
- They lead to a sustainable lifestyle, help local economy and make sound ecological sense
Ms. Diwekar also has some advice for her readers on the behavior to be adopted whilst partaking one’s food. Drawing on the fount of ancient wisdom, tenets of Ayurveda and the practice of our forefathers, she expounds:
“Staying silent while eating is the most undervalued aspect of good nutrition. Don’t talk, don’t read, don’t surf, just eat. It will actually put you in touch with yourself and then you will hear the voice of your stomach. Your stomach will guide you in eating the right quantities at every meal. It will slow down the pace at which you are consuming. It will make you feel lighter, younger, calmer with every bite. The space will reverberate with inner peace and you will hear a voice in your head go: Pakakarta tatha bhokta, annadata sukhi bhava. May the person who cooks, the one who eats and the one who provides the food, may all be happy. And just like that, peace will return to the world, at least to your world.”
So what are some of the attributes of these ‘super foods’ that make them an indispensable part of anyone’s diet according to Ms. Diwekar? Here are a few selected examples of the extraordinary properties which some of the superfoods that are listed by her possess:
“Garcinol, the most active ingredient in kokum, is an anti-bacterial, anti-viral and antioxidant agent. It’s for this reason that kokum is considered a functional food, that is, food (not pill or capsule) which besides having nutrients also possesses health benefits and disease prevention properties. The ORAC value – oxygen radical absorption capacity, a measure of the antioxidant score of any food – of kokum is very high. Hydroxyl citric acid (HCA) is a characteristic ingredient of kokum which is a well-known weight-loss aid. One that regulates appetite and optimizes fat-burning, and occupies an unchallenged position in every fat-burning pill out there. If you ever wanted Garcinia cambogia for its weight-loss effects, well, look no further than our own kokum for it is this same HCA that you find in kokum. Besides weight loss, HCA is also used to reduce cholesterol and anxiety, all three important for the typical urban lifestyle.”
“Rice is almost the only grain to have high levels of an essential amino acid called lysine…It is an essential amino acid, which means it cannot be produced by the body and has to be consumed through the food we eat…Cooked rice has less than 10 percent of starch left. Rice has crucial amino acids, vitamins and many Phytonutrients along with carbs.”
“The Medium Chain Triglycerides (“MCT”) in coconut will help cut down the risk of cholesterol, and by the way, coconut is a plant food so it has no cholesterol. You need a liver to produce cholesterol. Fact check.”
Lest I reveal all the vital points of interest embedded within the confines of the book, thereby robbing the readers of their deserved pleasure I will bring my review of this intriguing book to a close. In conclusion cocking a snook at received wisdom and bringing a refreshingly novel perspective to bear, Ms. Diwekar changes the way we think, feel and act about the ingredients that we put on our plates.
Those granules of sugar will never be the same again once you are done with Ms. Diwekar’s book!